Author: Kaleem Butt, May 31 2015 - Introduction: In this era when there is democracy everywhere in the world, still there are many nations that are striving for liberty and autonomy. One such country is Pakistan that has seen direct martial law for half of its period since creation, while the other half has been controlled by the military. After the death of Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah and assassination of its first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, there has been no way to stop the military from getting power and all its accessories. 

In every martial law period, the military has absorbed the power - has gotten the monopoly on decision-making, while it has established and widened collaborative interests.  As the historical events in common, every martial law in Pakistan has been informed by the last one and has more uniqueness in form than in motivation. A past in colonial history and post-colonial failures of politicians, judiciary, media and the public-at-large to stop the violation of democracy and rule of law, all these have motivated Bonapartist trends in the military held up through colonial traditions and intolerance of representative democracy. In Pakistan, General Sikandar Mirza came to power illegally in 1955-1958, General Ayub Khan in 1958-1969, General Yahya Khan in 1969-1971, General Zia-ul-Haq in 1977-1988 and, recently, General Pervez Musharraf in 1999-2008 - all of them controlled, manipulated, or avoided elections and used referenda to legitimize their acts. (Zahid Akhtar Masood, 2011).

According to Yousaf Muhammad and Rahman H. Bushra, 2014, media plays a very important role in forming the shape, opinions, values, loyalties, interpretation of the world and attitudes in a specific direction. It is unfortunate that, till recently, media corporations have successfully been hidden in the context of neo-liberalism, and the policies concerning people come under state censorship or violate choice of individuals. On the other hand, media propagates the agenda of those who finance it, and the freedom of media has become a tool in their hands.

Oppression of difference of opinion and criticism has always had an active part in the society of Pakistan. Journalists and writers had had to strive very hard to express themselves, as there have been many laws to punish the journalists and writers. In 1948, the Public Safety Act ordinance, allowing detention of individuals, offered no legal protection, but this bill was rectified in 1952 by the first constituted Assembly of Pakistan. (Kamal Ajmal, 2004)

Freedom of the Press:

The freedom of press means to have complete independence to express opinions through different mediums including print, electronic or digital media without the interference of the state. In 1948, the United Nations had a universal declaration called Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that “every individual has the right of freedom of expression and opinion and it includes freedom to have an opinion without any interference and express views through any form of media without limitations of boundaries.” 

Censorship of the Press in Pakistan:

The purpose of censorship is to officially oppress and suppress any action that could possibly put at risk the order of the state. In historic perspective, censorship has been used to control and monitor public morals and public awareness and, usually, to shut off the opposition. Sabotaging information through censorship is the first step of any government, as the press plays a very vital role in any kind of conflict. (Abbasi Saeed Irum & Al-Sharqi Laila, 2015)

The very first attack on freedom of the press in Pakistan could be dated back to 1948, when three periodicals belonging to PPL were banned by the than Muslim League Government of Punjab, while the Sindh government in 1949 stopped the circulation of Daily Dawn claiming that the paper had lodged fierce attack on certain ministry. In 1952, the editors and journalists of Dhaka based newspaper Pakistan Observer were detained under the Public Safety Act; the main reason behind this was an editorial published criticizing the Prime Minister. In the very same year, the Official Secrets Act was imposed that clearly was continuation of colonial legacy by the government to suppress the press. According to a study of the official reports 31 newspapers were banned merely in seven years of the creation of Pakistan (1947-1953) only in the province of Punjab. 

The days for the press became even worse when, in 1958, General Ayub Khan announced the military rule over the country. The most important feature of this martial law was that the press could not criticize the military rule in the country, and this became the standard operative procedure against the press during the martial laws that followed Ayub’s rule. The main objective of this was to tighten media policy to not allow publishing anything against the military rule. Thus, the “Press Advice System” was introduced; this was also the continuation of the colonial era. Press Advisory Boards (later known as committees or councils) were formed, having joint membership of editors and government officials. The duty of such boards was to ensure the government that the press would not publish anything that might go against the policies of the government, or such news stories that could be harmful for national security and integrity of the country. Finally, the press laws and institutionalization of the “Press Advice System” left no space for objective and investigative journalism and journalists became just messengers of government. Another tool that governments used in Pakistan was controlling advertisement, whenever some section of the press published anything against the government or criticized its policies, the government in reaction immediately used to stop its advertisement. (Mezzera Marco & Sail Safdar, 2010)  

Press under the Zia Regime (1977-1988):

On July 5 1977, General Zia ul-Haq dismissed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's government and imposed martial law. The basis of Zia’s strong hold on the country was muzzling the press and political opposition. He made a unilateral amendment in the 1973 constitution of forming party-less assemblies, which dented the democracy in the country. (Malik H. Iftikhar, Dr., 2002).  During this martial law the journalists suffered the most, and they were degraded in public. In 1988, a new law called the Registration of Printing Press and Publications Ordinance was implemented, according to which a district magistrate was to issue clearance to the person trying to establish a press. This law is still implemented even today. (Dass Bheeman, 2009).  

Sindhi Press against Censorship during Zia Regime:

According to Sohail Sangi (a senior Sindhi journalist and victim of Zia regime), Sindhi journalists suffered a great amount as compared to journalists of other languages in Pakistan during the Zia regime when there was censorship everywhere. Yet, the English and Urdu dailies were given some space to publish some items, while the Sindhi press was not given that space. An Information Officer (IO), whose job was to monitor the entire newspaper before going into publication, was appointed at every newspaper office. The IO used to dictate what to publish and what not to publish; he would mark news items that were not allowed in public, and those news items were taken out. Due to lack of time journalists were unable to fill the space and left the space blank. This later became the sign that some news was intended to be published but, due to censorship, it had been taken out - sometimes half page of a daily was left blank. Once a publisher translated an item into Sindhi, already published in English press, and gave the courtesy reference; yet, he was called by the local army commander for interrogation on why he had published such a news story. He told the commander that it had already been published. In reply, he was told, “Yes but the readers of English and Urdu press won’t come out on streets but Sindhi readers would come out.” Sindhi journalists, who played an active part against censorship during the Zia regime, were wiped out and tortured for doing journalism. Two Sindhi journalists of Hyderabad, Ghani Dars and Zahid Samo went to Lahore and gave themselves up for arrest in solidarity with other journalists who were arrested. (Butt Kaleem, 2017) When the Masawat newspaper was banned during the Zia regime, Sindhi journalists started a movement against the ban, and the journalists were lashed and jailed. Sindhi journalists like Ghani Dars, Zahid Samo, Irshad Chana, Shamsheer-ul-Hyderi, Khair Mohammad Khokhar, and others played an active part in the movement against censorship during Zia regime. (Mari Mansoor, 2017).  

According to senior journalist and Vice President of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Mr. Khalid Khokhar, Sindhi press was very vibrant during the Zia regime. They always retaliated against the oppression and suppression. Sindhi journalists always stood for truth no matter what hardships they faced. For example, Sindhi famous poet and journalist Shamsheer-ul-Hyderi used to write two columns “Full Trough” and “The Other Opinion”; and, between the lines, he used to criticize policies of General Zia in the Daily Mehran. Since the paper belonged to Pir Pagara, Hyderi was told to stop writing the columns. When he didn’t stop, he was sacked from the paper. In those days, there were limited Sindhi newspapers, including Daily Ibrat, Hyderabad, Daily Mehran, Hyderabad, Daily Hilal-e-Pakistan, Karachi, Daily Aftab, Hyderabad and Daily Barsaat, Hyderabad; but all these papers were very vigilant and played a vital role, especially during the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against General Zia. Despite of all the censorship, these newspapers were able to give some sort of coverage to MRD. (Butt Kaleem, 2017) 


Findings in summary:

From this study, it came to the knowledge that the Zia regime is considered to be the hardest time for journalists as truth was being oppressed and suppressed. Zia tried to hide every act of oppression under the veil of Islam.

It was the press that suffered the most during the Zia regime: the journalists were lashed and tortured and put behind the bars.

Sindhi press was most affected during the Zia regime - even the press of other languages was allowed to publish something, but Sindhi press was not even allowed to publish the same information.

Information Officers (IO) were appointed in every newspaper office whose duty it was to censor anti-government news - news items were removed from papers, and blank space was left alone due to lack of replacement time. That became the sign to know a certain news item had been censored.

Sindhi journalists started a movement against such oppression of the dictator and journalists like Ghani Dars and Zahid Samo gave themselves up for arrest at Lahore in solidarity with the journalistic community. Sindhi journalists like Sohail Sangi, Irshad Chana and others were jailed and lashed for performing their journalistic duties.

Shamsheer-ul-Hyderi, famous poet and journalist, who was editor of Daily Mehran was sacked from his job for writing columns against Zia policies.

Many Sindhi newspapers like Daily Masawat were banned.

During this period, an ordinance known as Registration of Printing Press and Publications Ordinance was introduced. Under this ordinance, the district magistrate was authorized to give declaration to people who wanted to install a press. No one was allowed to put out anything in print without the approval of the district magistrate, and this ordinance is still intact today.


The Zia regime from 1977-1988 is considered to be the deadliest period in the history of Pakistan, and the dictator was hiding his evilness under the curtain of Islam. Brutal punishments were given to political and social opponents of Zia; people were lashed and jailed just for raising their voice against him.  It was the press that suffered the most -journalists were jailed and lashed but carried on to play their role to bring forth the truth no matter how the truth was being oppressed. The press was totally under the control of the State. IOs were appointed to censor news items that were considered to be inappropriate, newspapers were banned. Among others, Sindhi journalists played a very vital role against the censorship of Zia; they started a movement and submitted to arrests; newspapers were banned; journalists faced financial crises but kept on telling the people the truth. 


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