Journalism vs. Dictatorship

    Ayub Khan had nationalized the Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) on the advice of Qudratullah Shahab, who had prepared the draft for the takeover. Following the same precedence, Zia’s government took over the Peoples Foundation Press (PFP), which the Bhuttos owned, instead of directly banning its subsidiary, the daily Musawat in Karachi. The nationalized PFP notified the management of the daily Musawat to stop printing. It also stated that the no objection certificate (NOG) required to resume printing would only be issued after Musawat’s administration cleared all of its outstanding dues. However, no printer in Karachi agreed to publish Musawat without the NOC because they were also under the government’s pressure.

    The PFUJ and APNEC started a movement against the closing down of Musawat (Karachi) in December 1977. First, Minhaj Barna went on hunger strike at Karachi Press Club along with eight workers from different cities. The same night, twenty-two press workers were arrested, including those eight. A series of regular arrests followed this; however, the military government had to give in after a few days. Finally, Musawat was restored, and the arrested press workers were released.

    Lt. General Mujeeb-ur-Rehman was the federal secretary of information at the time. He was a self-styled expert on psychological warfare and repeatedly attacked newspapers and magazines.

    Musawat (Lahore) was banned in early 1978. The leaders representing journalists held talks with him and demanded the restoration of Musawat (Lahore), which was rejected. During the early days of the Lahore movement, some energetic press workers who reached the city for court arrests were exiled from Punjab Barna, Ahfaz, Johar Mir, and I were arrested and externed from Punjab with a six-month restriction on our return.

    With each Passing day, the military administration’s policy became sterner. Summary Military courts started awarding sentences of rigorous imprisonment to press workers and finally awarded whiplashes to four journalists. Three of them were flogged the same day.

    The military administration had presumed that whiplashes would scare the journalists and force them to abandon their struggle. On the contrary, this punishment intensified their passion, and the movement rose to new heights. The Lahore movement continued for about a month, and the military government was checkmated. Musawat (Lahore) was restored, and the arrested journalists were released. When the military administration could not suppress the movement, it resorted to the methods it learned from the East India Company and British colonial masters. This entailed the creation of the Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiqs through collusion and coercion, which created rifts between the PFUJ and APNEC. Naseem Usmani and Rasheed Chaudhry from Karachi and Rasheed Siddiqui and MahmoodJafri from Lahore started a parallel PFUJ and APNEC.

    Even though all arrested newspaper workers were released and the publication of Musawat was resumed, the leadership of the newspaper workers did not feel at ease after this success. Barna was sure that the military government would strike again. He understood that the government’s anti-worker moves could only be defeated by demonstrating good unity and mobilizing people across the country. Therefore, he wanted to form a confederation of trade unions from all the industries in the country, similar to the Trade Union Congress in Britain, the Federation of the Netherlands Trade Unions in Holland, and the All India Trade Union Congress in India. To achieve this end, he called a meeting of different workers’ organizations in Karachi as the chairman of APNEC. It was agreed that cooperation, partnership, and contact between different workers and organizations would be promoted. For this purpose, a coordination committee was and Alfaz ur Rehman was appointed its secretary general. Barna travelled to various cities Of Sindh and held talks with organizations of farmers, labourers and students. I also accompanied him twice to Hyderabad. Our endeavours bore fruit, and a ‘struggle committee was formed. The progressive labour, student, and farmer organizations were its members.

    Then what we had feared happened: the Zia regime banned Musawat (Karachi). The Central Action Committee of the PFUJ and APNEC met in Karachi, and all aspects of the issue were discussed in detail. Barna favoured starting a movement, while Nisar Usmani was against it. Eventually, the majority voted in favour of the campaign. Since Usmani possessed a democratic temperament, he accepted the decision and presented compelling arguments in favour of launching the movement in his speech at Karachi Press Club the same evening. Barna had to start his hunger strike from the first day of the movement; therefore, PFUJ secretary general. Nisar Usmani, APNEC secretary general, Hafeez Raqeeb, and KUJ general secretary, Ahfaz ur Rehman were assigned to run the movement from the underground. Shamim Alam and Altaf Siddiqui were appointed couriers for this committee. The responsibility to distribute information to workers in other cities, news agencies, and newspapers was given to Al Fatah. Its chief editor, Irshad Rao’s fingers moved fast on the telephone dial, and he had a photographic memory for numbers. He would call all over the country, exchange information, convey instructions to the leadership, and report the day’s activities to one of the leaders in hiding by evening.

    Barna started the hunger strike with eight workers from different cities on 18 July 1978, and all of them were arrested the same night. The hunger strikes continue till August. Police would the protesting workers at night, sentence them in the morning, and then send them to jail.

    After finally announcing the general elections in December 1970, when General Ayub Khan allowed political activities in January 1971, the information minister, Nawabzada Sher Ali Khan, newspaper owners, and rightist political parties (particularly Jamaat-e-Islami) planned to purify the newspapers from ‘unwanted elements and Reds’. This was done by refusing to give temporary assistance as granted by the Second Wage Board Award. A campaign was launched against the PFUJ when it protested the decision. Weekly Zindagi started a series of articles against the PFUJ. They demanded the termination of K. G. Nlustafa and Minhaj Barna by declaring them, communists. When the newspaper association, All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), refused to Pay provisional aid, the journalists had left no option but to go on strike.

Source: Freedom of the Press- The War on Words (1977-1978) by Ahfaz-ur-Rehman

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