LAHORE, PAKISTAN — Three British journalists have been ordered expelled from the country because their newspaper published an editorial that used a mild expletive in describing President Pervez Musharraf.
The Pakistani government gave the journalists 72 hours to leave the country, Pakistan's deputy information minister, Tariq Azim, said Saturday. Daily Telegraph reporters Isambard Wilkinson, Colin Freeman and Damien McElroy are the first journalists to be kicked out since Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3, putting Pakistan under de facto martial law.
The offending term appeared in an editorial in Friday's edition of the paper, one of Britain's major dailies. The editorial accused Musharraf of "incompetence and brutality," and took the United States and other Western countries to task for supporting him.
As is the case at most major Western newspapers, the Daily Telegraph's editorials are not written by its reporters. But Azim said the three journalists were being expelled as the paper's "representatives" in Pakistan.
"We have certain cultural sensitivities. And if people don't realize that, I think it's very unfortunate," Azim said, adding that his government has demanded an apology.
The newspaper had no immediate comment.
Under the state of emergency, news media are forbidden from airing or publishing any content thought to "ridicule" Musharraf or the government. Musharraf, a general who came to power in a 1999 coup, says that emergency rule is necessary for him to fight a growing Islamic insurgency.
Private Pakistani news channels and foreign channels such as CNN have been yanked off the air. Many journalists fear that they are the next targets of a crackdown that has already thrown thousands of lawyers, human-rights activists and opposition members into jail.
The decision to expel the three Daily Telegraph reporters was immediately lambasted by Human Rights Watch, which described it as the act of "an increasingly desperate government."
"Instead of seeking to muzzle and punish his critics, it is time for Musharraf to face up to the reality of his well-earned dismal domestic and international image," the organization said in a statement.