Pakistan PM Heads to Washington Amid Media Crackdown at Home

A week ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's first official visit to Washington, his party has launched another attack on the press, linking critical coverage to potential "treason."

Khan, a cricket hero who captained Pakistan's national team to a World Cup victory in 1992, was elected last summer after running a fiery campaign -- vowing to crack down on corruption and build an Islamic welfare state.

But, nearly one year later, his rule has been marred by a crackdown on civil rights activists, the rounding-up of opposition leaders, and increased pressure on the news media.

In the latest development, the official account of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party fired off over two dozen tweets in English and Urdu late Tuesday, lambasting the press for coverage criticizing the government and Khan which it deemed "Anti-State".

"Freedom of Expression is beauty of Democracy. Expressing Enemy's Stance is Not Freedom of speech but treason against its people," read one tweet.

"Media houses & journalists must take care that in their quest for criticism on State, they intentionally or unintentionally do not end up propagating enemy's stance," read another, with the hashtag: #JournalismNotAgenda.

Pakistan routinely ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or powerful military.

In recent years the space for dissent has shrunk further, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses decrying pressure from authorities that they say has resulted in widespread self-censorship.

Khan will meet President Trump at the White House on July 22. While his supporters are planning to host a big event at DC's Capital One Arena, several anti-government protests are planned around town.

Among the protesters will be the supporters of Pashtun Tahafuz (protection) Movement or PTM a civil rights movement comprised of people from country's ethnic Pashtun minority.

The PTM has been critical of Pakistan's powerful military establishment and accuses it of killing and abducting Pashtuns. There is a blackout of all PTM activities in Pakistani news media.

Khan's government is struggling to right the country's floundering economy, with ballooning deficits, soaring inflation, and a sinking rupee stirring discontent.

Media watchdog groups also have been vocal in criticism.

Reporters Without Borders recently warned of "disturbing dictatorial tendencies" after three Pakistani TV stations were briefly taken off air in what it called "brazen censorship."

The Committee to Protect Journalist last year warned that the powerful Pakistani military had "quietly, but effectively, set restrictions on reporting."

The government has defended its record, and last week Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a media freedom conference in London that there was "no question of gagging" journalists after being challenged on his country's record.

Among other tweets, the PTI also warned that the media was a "powerful tool of depicting the positive image of our country. Anti-State actions not only impact the credibility of our journalism community but also sends out a wrong message to the world."

Source: Voice of America

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