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|May 17, 1999||
Sethi 'was beaten and dragged out of his bedroom'
''Thank you, Nawaz Sharief, for galvanising our movement and uniting journalists,'' said senior journalist Khawar Naeem Hashmi addressing the Lahore press club on May 13, which was Freedom of Expression Day in Pakistan.
It was on May 13, 1978 that General Ziaul Haq's military dictatorship had journalists flogged for protesting against the closure of a newspaper which supported the opposition.
This year, May 13 had added poignancy because of the heavy- handedness with which the government has been handling the press including the arrest of Friday Times editor Najam Sethi on charges of links with Indian intelligence agencies.
It was only in February that the Sharief government gave in to international pressure and stopped confronting the Jang group, the country's largest publishing house.
Now barely three months later, the press and proponents of democracy find themselves 'galvanised' once again, as Hashmi put it.
Hashmi was one of three who were whipped for dissent by Zia's regime while a fourth was exempted on doctor's advice.
There were late night knocks then too. ''But at least the accused were treated politely by the police officers who arrested them,'' recalls Ashaar Rehman, son of senior journalist I A Rehman.
''Abu (father) invited the police to have breakfast which they did. We were very young then and the presiding officer told us that if we had any problems we could go to him,'' Ashaar Rehman said.
Others arrested in those days of martial law, including Sethi, also shared tea or soft drinks with the officers who took them into custody.
Jugnu Mohsin, Sethi's wife and co-publisher of Friday Times weekly, recalls that when he was arrested during martial law he had telephoned her from the police station where she found him sitting before a senior officer with a cold drink in front of him.
There was regular communication between Sethi and his family then and he was released after a few months, Mohsin said. ''This time he was beaten and dragged out of his bedroom without a chance to put on his shoes or glasses. I don't even know whether he is alive or not,'' she exclaimed.
The government has said Sethi is in the custody of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence for suspected links with hostile intelligence agencies.
But Sethi was picked up by a joint team of Lahore police and the Intelligence Bureau, according to a report in The News by Kamran Khan.
According to Khan's sources, the IB handed Sethi over to the ISI, not wanting to be a party to the high profile case in which there is little evidence that Sethi had contact with the Indian secret service.
The ISI questioned Sethi for four days before reporting to the prime minister and the army chief that it could not confirm any link between Sethi and RAW or for that matter any other Indian official or agency.
Khan quoted highly-placed legal sources who said ''that if tried under the army act, as reportedly desired by the government, Sethi would be the first Pakistani journalist to face court marital under an elected civilian government.''
The Lahore High Court on Wednesday dismissed Sethi's habeas corpus petition on the grounds that he was being held under the Army Act, a pronouncement that surprised leading jurists.
Meanwhile, a government spokesman has stated that there is no crackdown on journalists and urged them to expose those who were loyal to foreign masters because of their abhorrence for the ideology of Pakistan.
Not many journalists, however, seem ready to oblige the government, taking such statements with a pinch of salt.
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