Pakistan’s vibrant media had its freedoms sharply curbed by President General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule over the weekend.

An amendment to press laws of 2002 barred newspapers and TV channels from printing or broadcasting “anything which defames or brings into ridicule the head of state or members of the armed forces, or executive, legislative or judicial organ of the state”.

The enforcement of the amendment came after TV news channels were withdrawn from cable providers, leaving local viewers with limited choice ranging from Pakistan Television (PTV), the state-owned channel, to entertainment channels such as HBO, Star TV and sports channels.

“Those who believed that this government had given great freedom to the media must now think about the limits to the government’s tolerance,” said Asma Jehangir, the leading human rights lawyer, placed under house arrest. “Where is the freedom of the media so much highlighted by the government?”

Land-based phone lines, which were suspended in Islamabad, were back in use on Sunday, though transmissions of TV news channels were still suspended.

“President Musharraf’s actions are taking Pakistan in exactly the wrong direction at a time when Pakistanis need more, not less, information,” said the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Ordinary Pakistanis did not hide frustration at the curbs. “The government doesn’t want to hear any criticism of itself,” said Umar Cheema, a school employee. He used the BBC’s Urdu service for news.

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