Lawyers’ ‘Highhandedness and Physical Abuse’ of Journalists in Pakistan

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By Zafar Iqbal 

 Journalists in Pakistani city Lahore are facing manhandling and attacks by lawyers who are furious on telecasting videos on TV channels in which   lawyers were shown beating up police officials. 

Local press reports that the mobs of lawyers’ thrashed journalists broke their cameras and DSNG vans and used offensive language against them in various incidents during the last two weeks.

A local court is conducting proceedings a case of assault on journalists and police by lawyers. Court took notice against some lawyers who rounded up Shaheen Attiq, reporter and Nasir, cameraman of a TV channel at the court for telecasting footage showing lawyers humiliating and roughing up a policeman on court premises on July 29.

 The chief justice of Lahore High Court cancelled the license of lawyers involved in the attack on media and asked them to remove their black coats and ties in the court room.

But later, a four-member disciplinary committee of the Punjab Bar Council restored the licenses of four lawyers involved in thrashing a policeman and journalists in the court.

The Lahore Bar Association office banned journalists in the bar and the ban still continues.

On 6 August a few minutes after a two-member bench adjourned the hearing of the case   lawyers attacked and thrashed the journalists who were covering the proceeding. According to Asim Nasim, a TV reporter, a group of charged lawyers attacked AR Adnan, a cameraman of a local TV channel, and gave him a severe thrashing. They broke his official camera, tore his shirt, and used insulting language against other journalists. 

The lawyers ask journalists to stop live coverage of hearing. They also pelted stones at journalists vans.

‘They chased the journalists until the reporters manage to leave the court premises’ and warned them not to come again in the court to cover the daily proceedings”, eye witnesses confirmed. 

The infuriated lawyers also chanted indecent slogans against the judges and reporters.

 The journalists took a procession against the incidents and demanded action against the fraction of the lawyers who reportedly molested and tortured   the journalists. Similarly, in different parts of the country, journalists protested   against the attacks on media. Black flags were hoisted at the press club building. Journalists unions in different cities and towns of the country condemned what they termed black coats’ vandalism and held protests rallies. They say that they would continue their protest till the action is taken against the responsible lawyers. The Journalists Union in Capital city of Islamabad has decided to boycott the coverage of legal fraternity.

 Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, an affiliated member of the International Federation of Journalists, in a statement term these incidents as ‘direct attack on freedom of press and creating impendent in the way of the media person’s assignments’. It said that the attack on the media persons, manhandling them, damaging cameras and injuring them by faction of the lawyers has ‘defamed and undermined the prestige and grace of the black coat under the eyes of the general public’. 

The recent wave of attacks against media persons created fear among journalist community. Saeeda Irum, a female journalist says that she feels insecure after these threats and rounding up my fellows by lawyers. 

“Journalism is like the ear and eyes of the society and media reports what s happening on the ground, so there is no justification of being annoyed and attacked the media persons if incidents of attacks of lawyers were shown on the TV screens”, she  said.

She maintained that there should be stern action against accused lawyers; otherwise we would be unable to perform our duties well.

Pakistan’s Information ministers Qamar Zaman Kaira condemned the violence against journalists by lawyers and said the government would take measures to prevent such incidents in future. “I will ask the provincial government to immediately communicate with the federal government over the issue and of course they have to take action,” the minister further said.

Meanwhile, the police registered a case against more than 200 lawyers on the complaint of Punjab Union of Journalists; however, no one had been arrested until the filing of this report.

According to media organizations in recent years Pakistan has become a dangerous country for journalists. Intermedia, a Pakistani media research group, reported at least 103 cases of “intimidation or threats” against journalists between May 2008 and May 2009. At least 15 journalists were killed in the country in that time. 

 (The writer is freelance journalist and media activist. He is also associated with Press for Peace (PFP), an NGO working for protection of human rights and press freedom.)

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