LDA seals SAFMA secretariat over ‘illegal commercial activities’


–FMF denies LDA’s claims, labels action ‘attempt to bar SAFMA, FMF from efforts for freedom of media’

LAHORE: Lahore Development Authority (LDA) on Tuesday sealed the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) Secretariat in an action against “illegal commercial activities” allegedly going on inside the building.

SAFMA, an organisation working under Free Media Foundation (FNF), aims to promote networking among journalists while facilitating them with training regarding capacity building within Pakistan as well as the SAARC region.

As per the details of the incident, an enforcement team of LDA on Tuesday morning sealed the SAFMA Secretariat – 177-A – located in the Shadman-II area of the provincial capital. The action was condemned by FMF that called it “abuse of authority”.

In a statement issued here, FMF has declared the action “arbitrary” and said the matter of using the property was lying pending with the Lahore High Court (LHC) and the court had not ordered to seal the building.

“FMF had submitted a request with LDA to allow the permissible use for its South Asian Media Library under LDA Rules. But instead of considering the request, LDA has arbitrarily sealed the premises,” FMF stated.

Speaking to Pakistan Today, FMF Chief Executive Officer Imtiaz Alam said that no commercial activities were going on inside the building. “There only was the South Asia Media Library. It is the only facility of its kind in Lahore which promotes media learning and education,” he said.

Alam was of the view that it was an attempt to bar SAFMA and FMF from their efforts for free media in Pakistan and the entire region.

Later in the day, while addressing a press conference, Imtiaz said that SAFMA was providing education to journalists coming from across South Asia. He clarified that the building was bought in 2006 while its map was also approved.

“A score of applications were submitted to LDA for the regularisation but all were rejected. If someone has objections over the provision of media education then we are ready to shut it down, he said, adding that they had requested LDA to give them a time of seven days but the request was also rejected.

“We will wait for three days and if the building isn’t unsealed then we will hold a massive protest,” he said.

On the other hand, while rejecting the allegations leveled by FMF, an official of LDA said the building was sealed following court orders. Speaking to this scribe, he informed that some nine years ago at least 50 residents of Shadman-II had filed a writ petition number 10709/2009 in LHC. They had stated that illegal commercial activities were being carried out in 177-A Shadman-II and causing inconvenience to the locals. He said that in 2014, LHC had ordered LDA Commercialisation director to settle down the dispute while taking the stakeholders on board.

“After their grievances were not addressed, residents of the area once again moved a petition – 134258/2018 – against FMF,” he said, adding that acting upon the court’s orders, LDA, after hearing the concerns of both parties, served a notice to the owner of the said building while directing him to halt the commercial activities within three weeks.

He further said that even after the passage of five months, illegal commercial activities continued inside the building, over which a team of the LDA has now sealed the building.