The ghost of late Minhaj Barna, one of the most towering trade union leaders of journalists and other newspaper employees in Pakistan, looms large when even years after his death, the Special Branch of the Punjab provincial government is looking for him – just like they used to when he was alive – but this time for his ‘death certificate,’ writes Mazhar Abbas.
The provincial intelligence outfit has sent a letter to his brother and veteran politician, Meraj Mohammad Khan in December 2013, it transpires. The current letter was sent to head of Special Branch, Sindh province to seek details about Barna’s death so that they can close and destroy his file, containing hundreds of documents since the late leader of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation (APNEC) joined the movement in the 1960s.
One of these letters contains the official notification issued by the then Home Secretary of Sindh province (now a well-known columnist) who writes on a variety of subjects, including politics and human rights.
This notification dated May 10, 1978, (reference number 11(11)SOJI/78) says, “Government of Sindh is of the opinion that the President and Chairman of PFUJ and APNEC, Mr Minhaj Barna, must be stopped from any such action which could cause public unrest. Therefore, using the power conferred under Maintenance of Public Order, Ordinance, 1960 clause V, sub-clause (D), Government of Sindh, is please to order Mr Minhaj Barna, not to speak or issue any statement on Government-Press Relationship or express his opinion in the Press or give any interview. This order is enforced with immediate effect. As per Governor of Sindh’s directive, [signed] Kanwar Idrees, Secretary Interior, Sindh.”
Barna, of course, refused to accept this order but the majority of newspapers refused to print his statement due to pressure from the government. At times he was also barred from entering from one province to another and was forcibly sent back to Karachi, where he spent most of his time. But he left Karachi and till his death was staying with his daughter in Rawalpindi.
This write-up aims to pay tribute to this legendary person who dedicated his life to journalism and struggle for press freedom in Pakistan on occasion of his third death anniversary to be observed on (Tuesday) January 14.
In my other blogs, I will come up with some events related to 1978 historic movement, in which Barna and former PFUJ President Nisar Usmani played an important role. The above letter just reflects the mentality of our rulers and bureaucrats, some of whom after retirement teach us human rights and respect for law but who when they were in power practiced the exact opposite of what they preach now.
The next blog will be on Hussain Naqi, veteran journalist and rights activist, who played an important role in the 1978 press freedom movement. His letters to senior journalists Mujeebur Rehman Shami and late Maulana Salahuddin would make for interesting reading.
The author is a seasoned journalist and former secretary-general of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.