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Editorial | Usman Khan’s Death And The Dastardly Attacks Against DAWN

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On November 29, London Police killed Usman Khan, a 28-year-old man born to a Pakistani immigrant family in London after he had attacked and killed two people and injured some. The investigations later revealed that he was radicalized in UK and was convicted earlier too.

As the incident was reported by all news media, his ancestry linking him to Pakistan too was mentioned. In news agenda it was discussed around the globe. Daily DAWN reported the news titled as “London attacker of Pakistani descent is terror convict: officials”. The story said, “Born in London, Khan is of Pakistani ethnicity.”

Soon after the news item was published, two federal ministers, Fawad Chaudhry and Dr. Shireen Mazari took to Twitter and blasted the newspaper for revealing the Pakistani connection. A storm over that was created dubbing DAWN with a paper with anti-national agenda.

A reference was made that DAWN had provided an excuse to anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim hate campaign both in UK and especially in India. A targeted hate campaign was launched on social media against DAWN especially on Twitter blasting the newspaper, its administration and its editor Zaffar Abbas who had recently earned a couple of international awards for his courage and commitment to independence of press and freedom of expression.

As if this was not enough, a few dozen protesters gathered at the DAWN bureau office in Islamabad and raised slogans against the newspaper and its staff. The protesters went to the extent of declaring the newspaper founded by Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. The protesters blocked the entrance and exit of the DAWN employees for almost three hours.

Despite the complaints lodged by the newspaper administration, no security assistance was provided by the Islamabad administration despite the obstruction and hateful and provocative speeches of the protesters. No arrests were made. Interestingly enough, the protesters raised slogans in favour of the security forces.

The journalists’ community and the civil society sprang into action and on Thursday, December 4, staged a solidarity demonstration supporting the DAWN newspaper in many cities including Karachi and Islamabad. The very next day, the same group of demonstrators gathered in front of the newspaper office and this time around they were more aggressive. They also burned the copies of the newspaper and threatened the newspaper administration and staff with dire consequences.

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Interestingly the same day, the body of Usman Khan, flown in a day earlier, was buried in Azaad Jammu Kashmir (AJK).

DAWN, for many years been an eyesore for the powerful establishment as well as the business groups, was a convenient target this time. Last time the paper got into trouble was on October 6, 2016, when the newspaper published a story filed by its assistant editor Cyril Almeida, “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military”.

The story created a ruckus, was denied by the then government of Nawaz Sharif and the ISPR but an investigation was ordered and it ended after then federal minister Pervez Rasheed and Tariq Fatemi, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were forced to resign.

Just two months before the national elections last year, in May, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif gave another interview to Cyril Almeida of DAWN. His assertion on lack of pace of the trial of the alleged Mumbai attackers drew another round of ire against the newspaper. Nawaz Sharif in his interview had said, “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”  

Both the newspaper and the journalist Cyril Almeida got into trouble and the latter was even put on the Exit Control List (ECL).

The current hate campaign and the support to the anti-DAWN narrative by the government have not come out of the blue. The newspaper has suffered a lot of restrictions for last three years including the denial of advertisements by various government bodies including reports of the forced blackout of the newspaper circulation in many cities including some DHAs and cantonments. The same has started after the recent publication of the news item about Usman Khan.

The fact of the matter is that Usman Khan news item was merely an excuse to target the newspaper and its staff. There was nothing wrong with the Usman Khan story. The same ministers who blasted DAWN over revealing the ancestry of Usman Khan and his Pakistani heritage were conveniently mum over flying in of his body and burial in Pakistan.

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The authorities have to remember that in today’s day and age it might be possible to stop the physical circulation of the hard copies of the newspaper but impossible to stop the flow of news and information. Even after the blocking of the Internet, the news and information would come out. Despite 100 plus days’ communication logjam in Kashmir, Indian authorities have miserably failed to stop the news coming out of the troubled valley. Physical attacks and efforts to economically hurt the paper will not succeed in ending freedom of press and will not weaken the resolve of the battle hardened independent journalists of Pakistan. It will only hurt the image of the state. It is a self-defeating exercise.

Sadly, the media tycoons and their poodles in the industry haven’t helped the cause of independence of media either. Time and again, they have ignored attacks on independence of media due to their self-serving agenda and cowardice. The weaker journalist unions and the press club bureaucracy too have emboldened the enemies of the freedom of press.

The journalists need to brainstorm and plan the future of independent media in Pakistan. Both the state and the seth media have failed to protect the independence of media, a sacred mission to protect the people’s right to information.

Naya Daur Media is an initiative dedicated to promoting media freedoms and we stand by DAWN as it continues to be maligned and targeted. Attacks on freedom of the press are unacceptable in a democracy.


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