the issue of the origins of the covid outbreak. president biden has ordered a new intelligence probe following reports it could have emerged from a chinese laboratory. but, beijing says any suggestion of a lab leak is a "conspiracy". the un civil aviation agency says it will investigate belarus�*s diversion of a ryanair plane and the arrest of an opposition journalist on board. it's been revealed russia has denied entry to flights by two european airlines because they planned to avoid belarusian airspace. doctors groups injapan have said that the olympics should be cancelled if current coronavirus infection rates continue. medical groups have warned the event could introduce new variants to japan and strain medical resources ——medical groups have warned the event could introduce new variants.
a full summary of the national and international news of the top of the hour. now on bbc news, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. who holds the reins of power in pakistan? prime minister imran khan leads a government elected in 2018. if pakistan is a genuine democracy, then that is where power resides. but many government critics say the military dictates much that happens inside pakistan, particularly when it comes to silencing opposition to the covert power of the so—called deep state. well, my guest is information minister fawad chaudhry. what happened to imran khan's pledge to deliver clean, transparent governance?
fawad chaudhry in islamabad, welcome to hardtalk. thank you for having me. minister, do you accept it is a basic obligation of any government which claims to be democratic, that it protects freedom of expression and it protects independent journalism? do you accept that? of course. this is one of the fundamentals of pakistan's constitution inside article 19 of the constitution. but the problem you have, minister, is that it is quite clear day after day, month after month, that your government isn't protecting
journalists and isn't protecting freedom of speech. and i will obviously contest this claim, because, you know, pakistan is probably one of the freest states, as far as media is concerned. we have about 43 international journalists, including bbc, here in pakistan. we have 112 of our own private channels, 258 fm channels and 1,569 print publications. so you can imagine the kind of media we have. the size of media itself defies your claim. minister... pakistan is said to... yeah, minister, i sense you're reading some of those figures off some notes, and if you are reading assiduously, you'll have read in the overnight media reporting of the attack on a leading independent journalist and youtuber asad ali toor. now, you know that gunmen entered his residence.
they threatened him. they beat him brutally and they did all of that in the name of the isi, pakistan's intelligence service. that happened within the last 2a hours. well, yes, there has been an incident. i took notice of that incident last night. i sent senior police officers to investigate that case. we have found cctv footage. we got the particulars of the people who were involved in this case, and people will be apprehended. but it's been fashionable for the western media to accuse isi every time when such incidents happen. and i know that there has been a history of people using and taking names of intelligence agencies to get immigration also. so this is one problem that exists. you're information minister, aren't you? i mean, what are you doing
to protectjournalists? because the case i referred to in the last 2a hours is by no means isolated. i'lljust point you to one more in the recent past. last month, absar alam, a prominentjournalist who was shot in broad daylight. he was lucky to survive the incident. this happens month after month. you've been in office for some time. what are you doing about it? well, frankly, individual incidents do happen, and such incidents do happen everywhere in the world. and pakistan is no exception... no, no. minister... minister, incidents like this don't happen in many countries. the organisation reporters without borders has clear evidence that the situation forjournalists in pakistan is much, much more dangerous than most other countries around the world. and you're clearly finding
the situation deteriorating rather than improving. what are you doing about it? well, i obviously would like to contest this claim again. the reason is that... this question is without context. the situation in pakistan is not dangerous for journalists only. the situation in the past for pakistan was dangerous for every citizen, because we were fighting this war on terrorism. and, yes, manyjournalists, especially the field journalists, have been killed in this war. but so have many civilians. this is not something that was limited to journalists. every... even the former prime minister, benazir bhutto, was actually assassinated in one of the terrorist attacks. so that is a totally different context in which that. . .actually. .. but minister... minister... minister, let me stop you for a second, if i may. the people who are carrying out these attacks on independent journalists are not the people
you call terrorists. they are people who are working for the state. they are involved in the security and intelligence services. reporters without borders says, quote, "the influence of the military establishment, "which cannot stand independent journalism, "has increased dramatically since imran khan came to power. "impunity for crimes of violence against journalists "is total." so, again, the question, what are you doing about it? well, the number of journalists. .. ..attacks on journalists has actually reduced since the prime minister imran khan has taken over. and when you name any pakistani organisation or intelligence agency, you are bound to produce evidence of that. so all of incidents, as you have mentioned, were investigated, and actually, in most of the cases, the culprits were apprehended.
but in these two incidents that you have specifically mentioned, even investigation has not concluded. so i don't know under what pretext you have concluded that the state must be involved in this...in this case. i don't see any reason for this conclusion that you have opted to reach. this isn'tjust about the fact that individual journalists are being attacked and sometimes murdered. it's about the real limits this puts upon the ability of media operators to actually operate with independence and freedom. i'm going to quote you now talat hussain, a well—known journalist, host of a well—known tv show in your country on geo tv. he said... long after imran had come to power, he said, "my programmes have been repeatedly censored. "i was told that any suggestion that the 2018 elections "were rigged, or that the army was part of "running the government by imran khan was unacceptable."
this is direct state interference in what the media in your country is allowed to say. well, of course, i don't even consider talat hussain a journalist because i don't see his programme on television much before prime minister imran khan took over his programme, not because of any reason, because he was not getting ratings. in pakistan, the media obviously, like any other media, is commercial — they obviously retain people who get ratings for them and if talat hussain doesn't get ratings, obviously they have to be off—loaded. as i told you earlier, and i would really like to read, because i don't want to be, you know... we have about 112 private channels and 43 national channels. with this kind of theme, the mass media that we have, how can you intimidate media? how can the state be accused of intimidating media? pakistan, if you compare us with any other third world
country or you compare it even with the first world, we probably have more free media than the first world. the bbc... i don't know whether you respect us as an independent news organisation. we certainly strive to be independent and impartial. the bbc offered a half—hour urdu news programme to one of your channels. i think they're called aaj tv. we had to, at the bbc, stop offering that half—hour of news because aaj tv was not able to broadcast it without interfering with the bbc�*s editorial content. and it was clear that that interference came under pressure from the pakistan authorities. now, again, you are the information minister. you have a background working in the media yourself. you told me at the beginning of this interview you felt it was a key to any democracy to allow a free media. that is simply not
happening in your country. won't you even recognise that? had we fought as aggressively, as you just mentioned, about the bbc, we would not have allowed bbc world to operate in pakistan. but the fact of the matter is that bbc world is one of the most—watched international channels in pakistan, and we have never obstructed its transmission by any means. so what happens in the case of urdu channels? you have to abide by certain laws, local laws, which was not complied with. if they comply today, they are allowed to do that. and just let me quote one example of irresponsibility of bbc urdu here, again, i would say with respect for the bbc as an organisation. there was a woman, asia bibi, who was freed from blasphemy charges. there was a headline on bbc urdu, that the holland ambassador has gone to receive
her from the jail. so the holland embassy had to close down for ten days because they got threats after that news and that news was totally wrong. and unfortunately, the bbc took no action against their own people. isn't the truth... ? isn't the truth, minister, that when it comes to all of these issues, from attacks on individual journalists to censorship, systematic censorship, that in the end, you, as information minister, have no real power or control at all? there are other elements in the pakistani state, some call them the deep state, who have powers that are far superior and dominate your own. i am the information minister of the world's fifth largest state. i'm the information minister of one of the seven nuclear states of the world. no—one can dare to undermine me. i am here with the full authority and i decide in pakistan what will happen and what is happening.
so can we say that it's your personal responsibility, then, this new set of internet regulations that came into force towards the end of last year, which, according both to independent media analysts and to some of the world's most powerful internet media companies, including google and twitter, are extremely damaging to freedom of expression and reach a new level of state control on freedom of expression online in your country? can you specify any regulation that has led you to conclude this, what you have just said? well, to be specific, under the new regulation, social media companies, internet service providers, they face huge fines of millions of dollars for failure to curb the sharing of content, which, to quote it, is deemed to be defamatory
of islam, promoting terror, hate speech or in any content viewed as endangering national security. you add up all of those subjective delineations together, and it gives the state enormous power to censor what is seen online in pakistan. well, frankly, hate speech is a universally recognised thing. it is a universally recognised fact that it has to go and all the states and organisations are under the duty not to allow hate speech. as far as the rest of the... the law is qualified, you know. anything that endangers national security — who decides what endangers national security? that law has never been promulgated. those social media rules are under discussion and the part that you were referring to was never promulgated. what, you're saying that you're backing down? that is never going to become law, isn't it? well, yes, this is...
right now, this is a position. this is not law. interesting. so, what, you've listened to all of the alarm that has been expressed by, for example, the asia internet coalition, google, facebook, twitter, many other companies involved in that who said that they were desperately alarmed by the scope of this new law, as well as the opaque process by which the rules were developed — you've listened to them, have you? you now accept they were right to be so alarmed? no, i have a huge respect for these technology companies and i will certainly listen to them because i want them to come and establish their offices in pakistan and we want to do business with them. i have a huge respect for them and the contributions they have made to the world. i think i am one of the most... i'm an admirer of their work. why would i not listen to them, number one? and number two is that the conclusions that you have arrived at are actually based on, i would say,
certain voices. so there is no problem as far as censorship is concerned. we would like to welcome all these companies. and i would like them... i would welcome them with open heart. when people consider imran khan's government, they try to compare it with what came before. here are the words of farzana shaikh, a respected analyst of pakistan at chatham house, who says, "what's different about this government "is the dropping of all pretence "that it conducts policy independent of the military. "previous governments sparred with the top brass, "but imran khan seems happy to do just as he is told." that's the perception your government has inside the country and outside. but this may be a perception of some indian—influenced think tanks. this is not the perception here in pakistan. of independent people. i would say that pakistan...
imran khan is one of the most popular prime ministers of pakistan and, as i said earlier, don't undermine the elected government of pakistan. imran khan has received more than nearly 200 million votes. it's not a joke. imran khan is the prime minister of a nuclear state. he takes the decisions, the cabinet takes the decisions, and, yes, we have a very, very good relationship with the so—called establishment, the term you are using so often. they are part and parcel of pakistan's system. we have a huge respect for their opinion. but the decision making rests with the prime minister and the cabinet. see, if one looks at the facts, it seems imran khan is not prepared to take on the military despite promises he made before he was elected. he repeatedly promised to end the decades of so—called disappearances — that is, opposition figures, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists who have disappeared in your country, notjust under the tenure of imran khan, but over many years. but the truth is that since he became prime minister,
those disappearances have continued and in some areas and instances have actually increased in number. again, why isn't the government confronting the isi, the security establishment, the deep state? first, let's be really clear. pakistan's isi, pakistan's army, respects human rights just as any other civilian governments would do. they are one of the most civilised army of the world and the most responsible army of the world and the people of pakistan and the world respect them for their role, what role they have played again in modern... minister, in eight months of 2020, 139 people were forcibly abducted in baluchistan, just one of your provinces. you're saying that your army is the most civilised in the world?
yeah, the reason... these missing persons has a history. most of the missing persons have actually voluntarily gone into afghanistan, into troubled areas and then when they have gone missing, you accuse agencies in the state for that. and let me tell you, the least number of missing persons are reported in imran khan's government. we are the only government who have just passed a law against disappearance. we have made, you know, illegal confinement a criminal offence. and now the bill has been passed by the government and it will go to the parliament. this is one leap forward in the cases of, you know, enforced disappearance as you have said. and also please don't ignore the kind of background in pakistan, background in which all this... this is what happened — we faced one of the worst wars in pakistan, the terrorism, the kind of terrorism
pakistan face very few other nations could resist that. and the fact of the matter is that we lost 70,000 precious lives in that. all right. for example, in one, what was guantanamo bay? it was special measures that were taken. so don't misinterpret this kind of, you know... don't misinterpret the situation and make such conclusions. you told me just minutes ago that you believe imran khan was the most popular pm in pakistan's history. i'm looking at a late april gallup poll, which shows 38% of respondents thought pakistan was heading in roughly the right direction, but a1% now believe going in the wrong direction. if one looks at the economic woes of pakistan under imran khan, the fact that you've had an unprecedented recession, the fact that even now growth rates are minimal and your unemployment and your poverty rates are really, really high,
there's a profound problem. imran�*s promises to the people have not been delivered. actually, unfortunately, i'm going to have to say that i don't agree with your conclusion. right now, pakistan's growth rate is 3.98%, 4%, which is one of the highest in the world, because despite all this covid crisis that the world has faced... and this is another story, the way pakistan faced covid, what a success story. pakistan has created, as well... independent economists... independent economists dispute that figure of 3.9%, as you know very well. they say growth this year is going to be around 1.5%. you've got inflation running at 11%. it was 14%. the basic foodstuffs that your poorest people rely on are going up in price. and you can tell me whatever you like, but all of the independent evidence is that many, many pakistanis who voted for imran khan are now deeply disappointed.
the people who voted for prime minister imran khan and pti are still ardent fans and i believe that even in the next elections, imran khan will get the maximum votes and will be the prime minister again. but again, i would like to just correct your take on the economy. you see, 1,100 billion rupees have been shifted from urban economy to rural economy. pakistan, this year, we have four bumper crops — except cotton. the beef is the highest in the history in pakistan, the maize is highest in the history of pakistan, the rice is highest in the history of pakistan. well... ..the second highest in pakistan. i would suggest, just go through the consumption figures. just go through that number of tractors... i understand, minister. i understand, minister, i understand it's yourjob to put a positive gloss on the situation. that's what you're paid to do. how do you put a positive gloss
on the fact that only 1% of your population thus far has been vaccinated against covid—19? that compares... admittedly, the crisis in india is much deeper than in pakistan, but they have at least vaccinated 11%. in the uk, it's getting on to well over 60% of the population have had a first dose. why is pakistan one of the world laggards when it comes to vaccination? well, again, please allow me to read this quote from the un general assembly president volkan bozkir. he said, "pakistan has been a good example for the world "with its pandemic—related policies. "pakistan has done better than other countries..." 1% of your people are vaccinated, minister, you don't need to read that off a card. you know it and i know it. no, no, no, no, no. i'm quoting you the president of the general assembly and i don't want to be wrong, you know. as far as, you know, the vaccines are concerned, right now, i think we have
vaccinated about 5.5 million people. we are among the 3a top countries in the world as far as vaccinations are concerned. we have to end, but here's some very salutary words from sameen siddiqi, a former director of the who about pakistan and the challenges ahead, particularly the dangers given your vaccination rate of future covid crisis. he says, "our systems will not be able to deliver, "god forbid, if we reach even a bit "of what is happening in neighbouring india." does that give you sleepless nights too? well, frankly, pakistan, as far as covid is concerned, pakistan is a great success story. the partial lockdown strategy that prime minister imran khan implemented in pakistan was a great success. only 2.2% mortality rates right now and the whole of covid is less than 6%. this is far better than any other country in the region. fawad chaudhry in islamabad,
we have to end there. thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. thank you. hello there. we saw plenty of sunshine today, and it felt much warmer across the board than what we've been used to this month so far. there are some subtle changes overnight. we've got a weak weather front pushing into western areas. that's going to bring the thicker cloud to many, but also outbreaks of rain across the west, initially for northern ireland, and then that rain will spill its way eastwards through the night across western scotland in towards western england and also western wales. there'll some mistiness and murkiness around, too. but the further east you are,
although there will be more cloud around, it should tend to stay dry here. those temperatures no lower than around 8—11 degrees for most, so milder than last night. so, here we go — here's the pressure chart for friday, then. we've got this weak weather front across western areas pushing into high pressure, so that's always going to weaken it. so, it looks like the rain out west will slowly peter out through the course of the day, but could stay rather grey, damp and misty here. further north and east, we'll see the best of any sunny spells and dry weather, but where the sunshine does appear and pushes temperatures close to the 20 celsius mark, then we could see the odd heavy shower developing, particularly in towards east anglia. and temperatures not as high as what we've seen today. now, for the bank holiday weekend, though, we're going to see lots of sunshine around, particularly for england and wales, as high pressure continues to build in across the country. for saturday, there will be a legacy of cloud left from that weather front, so patchy cloud and sunny spells sums it up nicely. maybe the odd shower mixed into there, but most places will be dry. where you get the sunshine, temperatures reaching the low 20s celsius again.
further north, where skies stay cloudy, then the high teens celsius. for sunday, though, i think it looks sunnier across the board. little bit of fairweather cloud bubbling up through the afternoon, and there will be light winds as well around this area of high pressure, so it's going to feel much warmer than what we've been used to. 22—23 degrees across the south, 20 celsius there across parts of scotland, too. now, for the bank holiday monday, we'll see this weather front push in from the north—west, affecting the north west of scotland, parts of northern ireland. but for the south and east of scotland, much of england and wales, it's pretty similar to sunday. plenty of sunshine, light winds and feeling warm — in fact, even warmer. we could make 211—25 degrees across the south or the south east. and it stays fine, settled and sunny, particularly for england and wales as we head through the first week ofjune. temperatures holding up at around the mid—20s celsius across the south east.
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