February 28, 2000
The Honorable Justice Rehmat Hussain Jafri
Anti-Terrorism Court No. 1
Municipal Training and Research Institute
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed by your decision to censor media coverage of the trial of former Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.
In an order delivered on February 25 in response to a petition filed by the prosecution, you reportedly said that any statements made by the defendants must be recorded by the court, which "will decide at the appropriate stage as to whether the same or part of it should not be released to the public or media."
Journalists in Pakistan have complained that throughout the trial, military authorities have limited the press's access to Sharif, who stands accused along with six others on charges including hijacking, attempted murder, and terrorism. The defendants could face the death penalty if found guilty.
The prosecution submitted its application to restrict media coverage of the trial on February 23, on the grounds that statements made by the defendants are "likely to tarnish and affect the security, integrity, and solidarity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan."
This trial is being scrutinized around the world for evidence of the military regime's avowed commitment to upholding civil liberties, including the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press. When, on January 26, Chief Executive Musharraf ordered high court justices to swear an oath never to challenge decisions made by his administration, Pakistan's English-language daily The Nation expressed the fear that the press, which was "similarly promised freedom, could become the regime's next target."
According to CPJ's sources, the military government has exerted tremendous pressure on the judiciary to rule against Sharif and his co-defendants. CPJ fears that the court's decision to hamstring press coverage of this internationally significant trial was made at the behest of the Musharraf administration.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ urges you to lift all restrictions on coverage of the Sharif trial. We believe that journalists in Pakistan must be able to report the news freely, without censorship or government interference.
We thank you for your attention to this matter, and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper