The former president of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf stepped (or leapt up) to the presidency with a free-media policy, or at least claimed so. While the appearances and presentations of media became more westernized and stylish, allowing some degree of erotic entertainment, the freedom of expression remained a shady cliché in President Musharraf’s Pakistan. The most infamous example of this came to the knowledge of the public during the clean-up operation of Jama Hafsa in Islamabad. When Aaj TV showed the footage of army’s indiscriminate firing on the Madrassa, the army targeted Aaj TV station in Karachi for its ‘disturbing’ coverage of the event.
Yet more disturbing to our sense of truth and freedom is the shocking revelation of Baloch businessman Munir Mengal that he was illegally held in prison, tortured, and pressured by the Musharraf administration in order to force him into abandoning his project of launching a Baloch satellite TV station.
As revealed in his interview with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), France, President Musharraf personally saw Mengal – who was taken to him as a captive – and ordered him to pull out of the media domain. Perhaps even more pathetic was General Musharraf’s offer of giving a copy of his book to Mengal as a sign that the general had done something worthy for Pakistan. Upon Mengal’s refusal to comply by the general’s orders, he was taken back to torture cells and tortured continually. Finally, Mengal was released by the intelligence services in August 2007 – after more than a year of illegal detention.
Mengal’s account of the horrific abuse of political power in stifling the freedom of expression is an instance that shatters the self-propagated claims of a free-media policy in General Musharraf’s Pakistan. Now, when the general’s rule is over, media professionals need to come together in order to debunk the myth of freedom of expression in a totalitarian administration.