London: Pakistan Press Club UK arranged a seminar in London, to mark and respect the courage of four of its Pakistani journalists. Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Iqbal jafri and Masudullah Khan, who were all convicted on the 13th of May 1978, in Pakistan for criticising the government of its military dictatorship by Army General Zia Ul Haq.
During Pakistan’s military regime, it became a dangerous place to practice journalism. It was normal for journalists to be targeted by the military government for intimidation. Journalists were at times illegally detained and severe penalties were imposed for alleged press offences. Journalists that were outspoken and critical of unpopular government policies also faced custodial sentences.
Keynote speech was addressed by Nasir Malik, former President Lahore Press Club who discussed at length the difficulties that journalist faced including death threats in an attempt by the military government to regulate media.
Saqlain Imam, President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists Afzal Butt, Lord Nazir Ahmed, Mobeen Chaudhry, Akram Abid, Naveed Chaudhry, and President PPCUK Arshad Rachyal informed the audience that the the Zia military rule will always remain a nightmare for many, the dictator’s decision to have four journalists convicted and have them openly flogged in public, was a measure designed to humiliate the profession and send a wave of terror throughout the media world.
There were regular stand offs between the military government and journalists who wanted to safeguard press freedom from state interference.
The protest started on April 30th in Lahore, as scheduled the procession took place from Lahore Hotel to the Assembly Hall. The four journalists were arrested and faced imprisonment and fines, but this did not deter other journalists from dis obeying state regulation . At this stage, the decision was taken to increase the sentences of the four journalists to include being whipped 15 lashes each in public.
It was assumed that if the journalists were lashed, that would spread terror among the rest. It was thought, that the press movement would collapse with fear.
Within an hour of the judgment, the sentence was actually carried out. In Kot Lakhpat Jail, Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi and Iqbal Jafri were each stripped to their waist, and were whipped in a horrific manner.
A medical assessment was undertaken of the four journalists. The examination had shown Khawar Naeem Hashmi to be too frail and below par to stand the lashes. He was, however, over ruled by the jail superintendent and Khawar was also whipped. Masudullah Khan, was physically disabled and therefore the decision was taken for him to be spared this ordeal.
Far from the movement of press freedom submitting in fear, it succeeded when its venue was later shifted to Karachi. Here it attracted wide support from students, workers and others who came to the aid of supporting the freedom of the press to remain free, from dictatorship control and regulation.
Nasir Zaidi, Khawar Naeem Hashmi, Iqbal jafri and Masudullah Khan meanwhile live on, as a inspiration to all others. PPCUK pays tribute and serves to remind everyone of the sacrifices given by others to preserve the integrity of this profession.