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Hawks target Pak musicians

Peshawar, Jan. 29 (Reuters): Musicians in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan complained today they were being harassed by police at the behest of hardline Islamic parties who run the province.

Several artists in Peshawar, provincial capital of the NWFP, said they had been arrested and fined unfairly, and feared that the treatment was part of a move to crack down on music and other arts by a six-party alliance of religious parties.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance swept to power in the province in October elections and includes pro-Taliban Islamic groups who support a strict conservative interpretation of Islam. The Taliban, ousted from power in neighbouring Afghanistan in late 2001, banned music and movies during their rule.

Well-known local Pashto-language singer Gulzar Alam said he was arrested by police last week while performing during a private wedding party. Alam was accused by police of drinking alcohol and rowdy behaviour. He was later released and complained he had been humiliated.

Tariq Khan, programme officer at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said the commission was planning to file a court case in support of musicians and their freedom of expression.

“Where is the law against music in Pakistan'” Khan said.

Musician Mubin Khan said he was picked up by police in Peshawar last week along with half a dozen colleagues and fined 500 rupees ($9) by a local court on charges of “loitering”.

“They (police) were angry that we kept our windows open (while playing music),” Khan said. He said late last month police had instructed all music shops to keep their shutters down so that musical instruments could not be seen from the street.

Publicly, senior police officials deny there was a crackdown on musicians in Peshawar, but in private some admit they have been asked to keep tabs on them.

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