Fact Focus site censored for investigating Pakistani army chief
“This site is unreachable.” This is the message that Pakistanis repeatedly encountered when trying to access the Focus on facts site, which was completely blocked on November 21 after it published its “Bajwa Leaks” article on the extraordinary wealth accumulated by the family of General Qamar Javed Bajwa since he became army chief of staff, as the general-in-chief of the army is called.
“It is unacceptable, in a mature democracy, that a perfectly documented and meticulous investigative report on an issue of considerable public interest for Pakistanis should be brutally censored in this way,” denounces Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific office. “We call on the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, to ensure that Fact Focus remains fully accessible to Pakistani citizens and can continue to publish its reports freely. The credibility of civilian government and the rule of law are at stake.”
The Focus on facts the site remained completely inaccessible for more than 20 hours on November 21. After RSF and other representatives of civil society reported ongoing censorship, it eventually became partially accessible again.
“More faithful to the king than the king himself”
Focus on facts The editors told RSF that the blocking of the site was carried out by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, a government agency, on the orders of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
“That’s what our contacts in those offices told us,” said an editor, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is not clear whether this was done under pressure from the military or whether the government decided to be more loyal to the king than the king himself.”
In this case, the “king” is General Bajwa, whose family has acquired assets worth 12.7 billion rupees (55 million euros), according to the Fact Focus survey. Since taking over as army chief six years ago, the value of his wife’s assets alone has risen from zero to 2.2 billion rupees (9.5 million euros), according to website.
With this survey, Focus on facts put accurate, sourced numbers on a reality that many Pakistanis unknowingly felt, namely the military establishment’s stranglehold on a business empire worth billions of rupees.
A sort of “state within a state”, the Pakistani armed forces rarely tolerate any form of scrutiny by the media. In a analysis published in July, RSF showed how – under the cover of a change of civilian government in April – the Pakistani army had stepped up its intimidation of journalists who dared to criticize it.
Pakistan is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 ranking World Press Freedom Index.