Speaking by telephone to his followers on 22 August, Hussain angrily criticized the Pakistani media and urged his supporters “to storm the offices of TV channels.” Hussain has lived in exile in Britain since fleeing Pakistan more than 20 years ago and has obtained British citizenship.
Just minutes after the phone call, MQM members launched their attack on the ARY News offices in the Karachi district of Saddar and the Karachi Press Club. They threw stones at the premises and fired shots in the air. Armed with sticks, some of them stormed inside, attacked employees and caused a great deal of damage.
According to the information obtained by Freedom Network, at least two reporters and four cameraman – working forSamaa TV, Neo TV, Channel 24, ARY News, Dunya News and 92 News – sustained minor injuries during the attack.
The authorities reacted rapidly, dispersing the activists and making a dozen arrests. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the threats and violence, describing them as “an attack on freedom of press and expression” and calling for media personnel to be given full protection.
A Sindh province police spokesman said protection of the media would be reinforced in Karachi, the province’s capital.
“We welcome the reaction of the Pakistani authorities to these acts of organized violence,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “At the same time, since the violence was directly instigated from London by Altaf Hussain, we call on the British government to accept that it has a duty to bring proceedings against him.
“By directly inciting physical attacks on journalists, this politician committed a crime that the British authorities cannot ignore, even if the violence did not take place in the United Kingdom. The British government has an opportunity to directly contribute to the fight against crimes of violence against journalists.”
Under a Lahore high court order issued last year, the Pakistani media are no longer allowed to provide live coverage of any speech by Hussain or publish his photo. But he continues to address MQM members and supporters from London.
RSF also hails the fact that the Pakistani media were unanimous in their condemnation of this attack, overcoming political divisions and uniting in defence of media freedom. Such unity is more necessary than ever in what is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for media personnel.
Pakistan is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.