Right of Reply

A spokeswoman for the Pakistan High Commission replies to a recent article by Andreas Whittam Smith
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The Independent Culture
ANDREAS WHITTAM Smith, writing about the detention of Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times, says that "Pakistan must learn the value of a free press". In fact, the freedom of the press is a cherished goal of our society. I must say, though, that certain sections of opinion sometimes forget to distinguish between genuine journalism and political campaigning.

A journalist loses his professional credentials as soon as he accepts political or government office. Mr Sethi accepted political office as a federal minister in the caretaker cabinet set up by the then president, Sardar Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari. As such, he is legitimately expected to follow the political agenda of Mr Leghari, which is to oppose and criticise the present government. But his detention is related neither to his being an editor, nor to his being an opposition politician; it is his alleged links with foreign intelligence agencies that are under investigation.

Mr Sethi's contributions, frequently published in his magazine, were not confined to mere criticism of government policies. He vehemently questioned the very basis of the creation of Pakistan. No doubt many others in Pakistan hold similar views, but most of them follow the ethical principle that one does not denigrate or ridicule one's own country when visiting foreign lands, particularly before an audience known to be opposed to the existence of the country.

Can one imagine an opposition politician, or a professional journalist from the UK, US, even India, disparaging his nation or the government before a foreign audience?

Mr Sethi has been arrested on the specific charge of anti-state activities, falling outside the ambit of legitimate journalistic freedom. He will be afforded the opportunity to defend himself.

Ms Jugnu, his wife, is fully aware of the whereabouts of her husband, who has been sent medicines and clothes by her, and she is visiting him today on the orders of the Supreme Court.

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