Dozens of angry Islamists swarmed the building of an independent Pakistani newspaper in the capital, Islamabad, blocking its entrance for several hours, threatening the staff and demanding its editor be hanged, the paper reported Wednesday. A simultaneous protest also took place Tuesday evening in the southern port city of Karachi, where the Islamists gathered at the Press Club, demanding that Dawn’s editor Zaffar Abbas and publisher Hameed Haroon be hanged. The demonstrators, who later dispersed, were angered that the English-language paper had reported that the London Bridge attacker was of “Pakistani origin.”
The Islamist protest was condemned by Pakistani rights groups, journalist organizations, politicians and members of civil society advocating for the rights of journalists. Pakistani journalists said they would hold nationwide rallies on Thursday to condemn the besieging of Dawn’s offices. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan backed the call, expressing its support for media freedoms. The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Pakistan to prevent protests against the newspaper from turning violent and investigate death threats to its staffers.
“Pakistanis have every right to object to and demonstrate against the Dawn newspaper over its coverage, but threatening violence steps way over the line,” said Kathleen Carroll, the board chair at the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Reporters Without Borders asked Pakistani authorities “to issue a public and unequivocal condemnation of last night’s siege of the Islamabad headquarters of Pakistan’s oldest English-language daily, Dawn, by an angry crowd of demonstrators calling for it to be banned on completely spurious grounds.”
The global media watchdog said the entrance to the building that houses the newspaper and its sister TV channel, Dawn TV, was occupied by protesters who prevented everyone from entering or exiting, threatened employees who tried to enter, and demanded written apologies for Dawn’s purported offence.
“This show of force, which was clearly orchestrated, constitutes yet another absolutely unacceptable act of intimidation,” Daniel Bastard, the head of the watchdog’s Asia-Pacific desk.
The Dawn newspaper has a history of strained ties with the country’s military. Cyril Almeida, a journalist working for Dawn, was charged last year with treason after an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in which Sharif accused the military of aiding the militants who had carried out the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Last month, Dawn’s editor Abbas was awarded the 2019 Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists.