IV. Restrictions on Freedom of Expression
Tight controls on freedom of expression have been a hallmark of the Pakistani governments policy in Azad Kashmir. This control is highly selective. Militant organizations have had free reinparticularly between 1991 and 2001to propagate their views and disseminate literature. However, those supportive of independence for a united Kashmir, or otherwise critical of the Pakistani government, have faced continual repression.
No person in Azad Kashmir can be appointed to any government job, including the judiciary, unless he or she expresses loyalty to the concept of Kashmirs accession to Pakistan. The oath of office for the president, prime minister, speaker, member of the legislative assembly or the Azad Kashmir Council also incorporates the following statement: I will remain loyal to the country and the cause of accession of the state of Jammu & Kashmir to Pakistan.49 (The consequences of not taking the oath for persons seeking political office are discussed below, in Chapter V.)
The Pakistani government has long limited dissemination of news in Azad Kashmir. There is no locally-based news agency. Azad Kashmir only has one daily newspaper and so people largely rely on local editions of Pakistani newspapers for news and information. The laws governing publications provide a partial explanation for this barren information landscape: in order to publish within the territory, newspapers and periodicals need to be granted permission by the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs in Islamabad. These bodies are unlikely to grant permission to any proposed publication likely to be sympathetic to any discourse on Kashmir and its affairs other than that sanctioned by the Pakistani government. In any case, the publisher would have to sign the declaration of support to accession to Pakistan mentioned above. Technically, the same rules apply to the publication of books.
Human Rights Watch spoke extensively to working journalists and writers in the major towns of Azad Kashmir. Members of the press complained of the intrusive and coercive policies of the Azad Kashmir government but particularly of the ISI and the Pakistani military. Almost every journalist interviewed described incidents of coercion, intimidation, threats and occasional violence against the media by the military, its intelligence agencies, and militant groups.
Consequently, self-censorship has been as endemic as coercion. It is indicative of the climate of fear that pervades Azad Kashmir that while journalists were forthcoming in describing incidents off-the-record, virtually all interviewed by Human Rights Watch requested not to be quoted, even anonymously. Their rationale was that Azad Kashmir was a relatively small territory and they would be easily identifiable through the specifics of the incident described. One journalist explained his reasons to Human Rights Watch in these words:
Waheed Kiyani, a local journalist working for the Reuters news agency, was arbitrarily arrested by the ISI on July 10, 2003, as he was returning from the city of Rawalakot after covering a political meeting. For security reasons, Kiyani was unwilling to talk to Human Rights Watch. However, Human Rights Watch interviewed others including the organizers of the meeting who described what happened. Arif Shahid, chairman of the All Parties Nationalist Alliance (APNA, a conglomerate of nationalist Kashmiri parties) and JKLF secretary general, told us:
The Azad Kashmir government regularly bans books that it considers to be prejudicial to the ideology of the states accession to Pakistan.52 This includes all books that propagate or discuss the Kashmiri nationalist discourse with its emphasis on independence for a united Kashmir. Arif Shahid, quoted above, is himself the author of four books banned by the authorities.
Muhammad Saeed Asad, a self-described Kashmiri nationalist, is the author of numerous books on Kashmiri affairs, and is employed as a social welfare officer in the Azad Kashmir Ministry of Social Welfare and Womens Development when he is not under suspension for writing books to which the government objects. In 2002, he was suspended for writing a book on the Mangla Dam (see above) that questioned Pakistans right to water sources originating in Kashmir. Pakistan has banned three books written by Saeed Asad for being anti-state and an attempt to promote nationalist feelings amongst Kashmiris.53 These include Shaur-e-Farda, banned in 1996, which comprises letters written by Maqbool Butt to his friends and relatives over a span of two decades (Maqbool Butt, founder of the JKLF, is a central figure in the Kashmiri nationalist movement.)54 Saeed Asads book on the Mangla Dam controversy was banned on November 21, 2002, and a book on the Northern Areas (in the grip of unrest due to lack of rights and, as noted above, claimed by Kashmiri nationalists and India as part of Kashmir),55 was banned in June 2004. He told Human Rights Watch:
The October 8, 2005 earthquake resulted in a considerable weakening of the Pakistani governments ability to curb freedom of expression and information in the territory. The influx of international and Pakistani media into the territory in the aftermath of the earthquake was unprecedented. However, for freedom of expression to take root in Azad Kashmir, the external media presence must be systematized into permanent structures such as news bureaus and regional offices.
As with the print media, prior to the earthquake the only radio station allowed to operate in the territory was the Azad Kashmir Radio, a subsidiary of the state-controlled Radio Pakistan. Typically, state-run radio and television news programs present news according to priorities of state protocol rather than newsworthinessthat is, a news bulletin will begin with the engagements and observations of the president of Pakistan and make its way down the official pecking order to the local level. The influx of and consequent competition from satellite channels has, as yet, not resulted in a change in the news culture of state-controlled media. Subsequent to the earthquake, the government allowed a private FM radio station to broadcast in the territory as long as the broadcast is limited to entertainment.
(In November 2005, Pakistans government-run electronic media regulatory authority, PEMRA, stopped three local (Pakistani) partners of the BBC from broadcasting two daily thirty-minute earthquake specials produced by the BBCs Urdu service. PEMRA officials, accompanied by dozens of armed policemen, seized equipment from one of the local partners Karachi offices and ordered two satellite television partners to stop running news content from the BBC. Pakistans information minister declined to comment on the incident when approached by the BBC. Though the earthquake specials resumed after an outcry by international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the government of Pakistan appears unwilling to tolerate critical reporting of events in Azad Kashmir not just in the territory, but across Pakistan.57)
Before the earthquake, telephone landlines were limited and strictly monitored in Azad Kashmir and only a limited mobile telephone service was operational. All telecommunications stations were controlled by the Special Communications Organization (SCO), which is a functional unit of the Pakistani army. Subsequent to the earthquake, the Pakistani government allowed private Pakistani mobile phone companies to operate in Azad Kashmirbut only after it was pointed out that the loss of life could have been lessened and the rescue effort made easier, particularly in the major cities, had victims buried under rubble been able to use mobile phones as they did in Islamabad and quake-affected areas in Pakistans North West Frontier Province.58
Official repression of freedom of expression is not limited to controls and censorship specific to Kashmiri nationalists and journalists. Pakistani police used lahtis (canes) and rifle butts to break up a peaceful demonstration in Muzaffarabad on November 11, 2005, by approximately two hundred earthquake survivors protesting eviction from their makeshift camp. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that police arrived early at the Jalalabad Garden camp that day and told the quake victims that they had to leave by sunset. Several protestors, including children, were injured as a result of police efforts to break up the demonstration. A Muzaffarabad journalist told Human Rights Watch that when he asked a senior administration official to order the police to stop the violence, the official responded, What else do you expect the police to do? We can hardly tolerate this sort of behavior from these people. If they dont behave they will get beaten of course.
49 The oath is based on Article7(2) of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act of 1974, and in addition to holding political office or being appointed to a government job, the submission of a signed declaration to the same effect is required in order to publish books or periodicals.
50 Human Rights Watch interview with local journalist, Azad Kashmir, July 29, 2005.
51 Human Rights Watch interview with Arif Shahid, Rawalakot, July 28, 2005. Human Rights Watch interview with Kamila Hyat, Joint Director, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Lahore, September 14, 2006.
52 Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution Act 1974, art. 7(2).
53The letter of suspension to Saeed Asad is on file with Human Rights Watch.
54 Maqbool Butt is considered a hero by Kashmiri nationalists and the founder of the movement for an independent Kashmir. He was disliked almost equally by India and Pakistan, and viewed as a terrorist by the former and a double agent by the latter. He was hanged on February 11, 1984, in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, age forty-five, and buried there.
55 The complex history of the Northern Areas (NA) is intricately linked to the Kashmir dispute. Since 1947-48, the NA have been administered by Pakistan although they are not legally part of it as they find no mention in the constitution of Pakistan and are neither a province of Pakistan nor an autonomous territory having a constitutional status of its own like Azad Kashmir. Though Pakistan blames the constitutional limbo the NA is in on its unresolved dispute with India over Kashmir, it has chosen to separate the territory from Azad Kashmir. Both Kashmiri nationalists and India disagree with Pakistani policy in this regard.
56 Human Rights Watch interview with Saeed Asad, Rawalakot. July 30, 2005.
57 Pakistan: Donors Need Accountability on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch news release, November 16, 2005, [online] http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/11/16/pakist12045.htm.
58 Presidents press conference in Muzaffarabad, President of Pakistan press room, October 18, 2005, [online] http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/FilesPressRoom/PressConferences/1018200590032PMPresident%20press%20conference.pdf (retrieved August 24, 2006).