Journalist jailed for 16 years in Pakistan

A JOURNALIST has been jailed for 16 years in Pakistan under British colonial-era regulations dating back to 1901, which allow trial by tribal elders and prevent appeals being heard except by civil servants.

Sailab Mahsud, a local journalist who also reports for the BBC's Pashto service, was arrested in South Waziristan shortly after he interviewed Amanullah Kundi, an alleged drugs baron who had escaped from detention pending trial.

Mr Mahsud was charged with a number of offences, including conspiracy to 'commit war' against Pakistan, harbouring offenders and resistance to lawful apprehension. He was tried under the Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901, which provides for cases to be heard by a jirga - a council of tribal elders.

When Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947, the colonial system of administration in the tribal territories of the north-west frontier was retained, giving officials almost unlimited powers.

Last month's trial was held behind closed doors and Mr Mahsud had no legal representation. Details of the charges or evidence against him were not made public. This is permitted by the colonial rules, but local officials were reported to have contravened them by taking part in the hearing.

The Frontier Crimes Regulation does not allow the decision of the jirga to be taken to a higher court. Mr Mahsud has appealed to the South Waziristan commissioner, who may forward the application to the chief civil servant in Pakistan's home ministry for a decision.

Pakistani journalists believe their colleague's real offence was embarrassing the authorities by interviewing the drugs suspect. Amnesty International said Mr Mahsud's trial was 'manifestly unfair'. The evidence available, it added, 'strongly suggests that he was in fact arrested solely on account of his journalistic activities and that the criminal charges against him are false'.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's new President, Farooq Ahmed Leghari, vowed yesterday to strengthen democracy and national cohesion, amid optimism for political stability, AFP reports.

Speaking after his induction, Mr Leghari also promised to seek improved relations with the United States. Mr Leghari, 53, was elected by the electoral college on Saturday. His victory lends a considerable degree of stability to the coalition government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, analysts here said.