Pakistan imposes censorship on Chief Justice issue

This has been going on for a while, and I’ve been watching quietly.

Some time ago, Pakistani President Musharraf submitted a “reference” against Pakistan’s Supreme Court Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, alleging misuse of power. Musharraf had demanded Chaudhry’s resignation, detaining the Chief Justice for several hours, while Chaudhry refused to comply. As Chaudhry had apparently been willing to hear a few too many cases against the Musharraf regime, members of the legal establishment interpreted this as an attack against the independence of the judiciary. There has police violence against the Chief Justice and against widening protests opposing Musharraf. “Within days of the judge’s suspension, police in Islamabad used tear gas against demonstrators and smashed equipment at the privately-run Geo TV station which had showed pictures of the protests. President Musharraf later apologised for the incident.”

Yet, “the same channel had its high-profile discussion programme banned a day earlier. And three TV channels were briefly taken off air earlier in the week for running footage of bloody clashes between police and lawyers.” And it is now clear the government has abandoned even the pretense that it isn’t trying to suppress coverage of the unrest with a formal order prohibiting satellite channels “from telecasting programmes, including live talk shows and discussions, on the issue of the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.”

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) accuses the media of broadcasting “gruesome/gory scenes of mutilated bodies of tragic incidents of terrorism creating fear and unrest in the society which serves the purposes of the terrorists.” So those who support the Chief Justice are now being cast as terrorists, while on May 12, “pro-Musharraf Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) cadres clashed with those of opposition parties” in Karachi, preventing Chaudhry from speaking.

A statement attributed to “The president MMA, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and PTI Chief Imran Khan” claims:

There is mass uprising against his autocratic rule. May 12th Karachi mayhem have exposed him and his allies totally. Now in a desperate move he has on the one hand gagged the press and is imposing pre-censorship on electronic media and on the other he is openly dragging in the army to protect his personal interests and political exploits. Nothing can be more disastrous for the country than using the armed forces for searching political survival.

The Bush administration has continued to back Musharraf, who capitulated to Washington in Bush’s “war on terror” rather than be seen as a supporter of the Taliban. Pakistan might otherwise have been attacked the way Afghanistan was, where, after nearly driving the Taliban out of the country, the U.S. is now slowly losing ground, and where the Taliban apparently are in effective control of the southern third of the country, while warlords undermine central government authority in almost all the rest, and the country now supplies 90% of the world’s opium.

It no longer seems credible that Musharraf can retain power in what has become a very dangerous situation. Nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India have been improving relations, while Islamist groups seek further restrictions in Pakistan under what they see as Islamic law, and have engaged in kidnappings and threatened violence to accomplish their ends, while India has long blamed such groups for attacks in the disputed Punjab territory. The BBC writes, “But no one in Pakistan underestimates the brute power and guile of the military,” and it seems to me likely that another coup, such as that which brought Musharraf to power, is in the offing.

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