Saturday, September 11, 2010

Najam Sethi

Najam Sethi, 63, graduated from Government College, Lahore, Pakistan, in 1967. He was awarded the Presidents Gold Medal for standing first among 50,000 students of Punjab University.

He took an MA degree in Economics from Cambridge University, UK, in 1970 and was awarded the Davies Prize for Economics by Clare College. He was a PhD research student at Clare College from 1971 to 1972.

While in Pakistan to research his dissertation subject, he was detained as a political prisoner by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime from 1975 to 1977 for protesting military action in Baluchistan province following the illegal dismissal of the elected governments in two provinces. Amnesty International included him among its list of political prisoners in Pakistan at that time. He was discharged honorably in 1978 when all political prisoners were freed.

In 1978 he established Vanguard Books, an independent, liberal, secular publishing house which has published over 400 titles since then in history, politics and economics.

In 1984 he was imprisoned by the military government of General Zia ul Haq for one month (“preventive detention”) without formally being charged for any crime. But the real reason was Gen Zia’s aversion to a book published by Vanguard Books. It was titled “From Jinnah To Zia” and authored by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Mohammad Munir. The book was a sort of mea culpa in which the author had admitted his grave error in legitimizing the first martial law in Pakistan in 1958, thereby paving the way for Gen Zia’s martial law in 1977. It was very critical of Gen Zia.

In 1989, along with his wife Jugnu Mohsin, he launched The Friday Times (TFT), an independent national weekly paper which espouses secular internationalism, human rights, regional peace and democracy. Newsweek Magazine described him in the 1990s as a “crusading editor” for exposing corruption in government. He has unfailingly written the editorials of the paper every week since 1989.

In 1999 he was imprisoned by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on trumped up charges of treason. The real reason was relentless exposure in The Friday Times of corruption in the Sharif family. The supreme court of Pakistan rejected the trumped up charges of “treason” and freed him after one month. While in detention he was tortured and suffered a heart attack, which necessitated heart surgery in 2000.

In 1999 the Nawaz Sharif government started to harass him by slapping over 50 income tax fraud cases. It also accused him of being a “non-Muslim” and tried to deprive him of his voting rights. But all the cases against him were rejected by the tax tribunals and high court of the country and all his rights were restored by the Chief Election Commissioner.

In 1999, he was awarded the JOURNALISM UNDER THREAT AWARD by Amnesty International, UK, and the INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM AWARD by the Committee to Protect Journalists, New York.

In 2002 he launched Daily Times, an independent national daily newspaper published from Lahore and Karachi and Islamabad. Like The Friday Times, this daily paper was an outspoken liberal humanist internationalist voice in the country. Its editorials constantly argued for peace with India, supported the war against Taliban-Al-Qaeda terror and opposed religious fundamentalism and extremism.

In August 2008, he launched AajKal, a national Urdu daily paper from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Within a year, the paper became the most outspoken voice of rational discourse, internationalism and liberalism in the Urdu print media of Pakistan.

In 2007 he set up Beyond Borders, a public interest production company for South Asia television channels. The mission statement of this project is to promote South Asian cultures, build confidence and trust and sustain democracy, civil society and human rights in the region. The company has produced 13 short films on the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 based on the short stories of the grand literary masters of India and Pakistan. It is also producing a 13 part serial titled ROOTS, which is a compilation of interviews of famous Indians and Pakistanis who crossed over to the “other” country at the time of partition and have inspiring stories to tell of the warmth, love, humanity and affection of the “other” community. The aim of these projects is to build trust between Indians and Pakistanis, Hindus and Muslims, and promote the cause of peace in the region.

In 2007-8, he received open death threats from the Taliban-Al Qaeda for supporting the war against terrorism. The Taliban’s mouthpiece in Waziristan did a cover story in which it identified Najam Sethi as an “enemy of Islam”. Radical Islamists demonstrated against his papers in Islamabad and openly called for his elimination.

He was awarded the Golden Pen Press Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers in 2009 for courage in upholding secular values, human rights and press freedom.

Najam Sethi is the only journalist in Asia to receive three international press freedom awards in a decade.

1 comment:

  1. I am from India living in the US. I have watched Mr. Sethi's TV interviews on Geo TV, thanks to Youtube. My views of Pakistan are that it is a country living in hatred and will self destroy sooner or later. Given its nuclear status, it may destroy some others in the process. Mr. Sethi gives me some hope. I have read his daughter's articles in WSJ. He is raising a good family.