ajam Sethi, an award-winning Pakistani journalist, is the editor-in-chief of The Friday Times, a Lahore-based political weekly, an ex-Editor in Chief of Daily Times and Daily Aajkal, ex- Anchor/Analyst of Geo News’ political program “Aapas ki Baat” and current Anchor/Analyst of Najam Sethi Show on Channel 24 HD and host of Sethi Say Sawal on Najam Sethi Official YouTube.
He is the only journalist in South Asia to receive three international press freedom awards in a decade, as well as the Hilal i Pakistan, the country’s highest civil award. He is married to Jugnu Mohsin, Publisher and Managing Editor of The Friday Times, and Good Times. They have two children – Ali Sethi and Mira Sethi. Ali graduated from Harvard University in 2007 and his novel titled “The Wish Maker” has been published in English, Dutch, German, Italian, Turkish etc. He is a practicing musician who lives and works in Lahore and New York. Mira graduated with honours from Wellesley College in the USA, worked as Asst Books Editor at The Wall Street Journal in New York, USA for two years and is now based in Pakistan as a journalist/tv actor/author of a forthcoming book of fiction from Knopf publishers in New York.
Najam Sethi, 72, graduated from Government College, Lahore, Pakistan, in 1967. He was awarded the Presidents Gold Medal for standing first among over 50,000 students of Punjab University.
He took an MA degree in Economics and Politics from Cambridge University, UK, in 1970 and was awarded the Davies Prize for Economics by Clare College. He was a PhD research student at Clare College from 1971 to 1972. In 2011 he was made Alumnus of the Year by Clare College and made honorary Eric Lane Fellow of the college.
Najam Sethi abandoned his PhD work to join the struggle of the Baloch and Pashtun for their constitutional provincial rights. He was arrested and detained as a political prisoner by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime from 1975 to 1977 for protesting military action in Baluchistan province following the illegal dismissal of the elected governments in Balochistan. Amnesty International included him among its list of political prisoners in Pakistan at that time. He was discharged in 1978 when all political prisoners were freed.
In 1978 he established Vanguard Books, an independent publishing house which has published over 400 titles since then in history, politics and economics.
In 1984 he was imprisoned by the military government of General Zia ul Haq for one month (“preventive detention”) without formally being charged for any crime. But the real reason was Gen Zia’s aversion to a book published by Vanguard Books. It was titled “From Jinnah To Zia” and authored by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Mohammad Munir. The book was a sort of mea culpa in which the author had admitted his grave error in legitimizing the first martial law in Pakistan in 1958, thereby paving the way for Gen Zia’s martial law in 1977. It was very critical of Gen Zia. Trumped-up charges of “piracy” of books were leveled in the media to undermine his credibility and hide the real reason for Gen Zia’s anger but no such formal charges were brought to bear.
In 1989, along with his wife Jugnu Mohsin, he launched The Friday Times (TFT), an independent national weekly paper which espouses internationalism, human rights, regional peace and democracy. Newsweek Magazine described him in the 1990s as a “crusading editor” for exposing corruption in government. He has unfailingly written the editorials of the paper every week since 1989.
In 1999 he was imprisoned by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on trumped up charges of treason. The real reason was relentless exposure in The Friday Times of corruption in the Sharif family. The supreme court of Pakistan rejected the trumped up charges of “treason” and freed him after one month. While in detention he suffered a heart attack, which necessitated heart surgery in 2000.
After he was freed by the SC, the Nawaz Sharif government started to harass him by slapping over 50 trumped-up income tax cases. It also accused him of being a “non-Muslim” and tried to deprive him of his voting rights before the Election Commission of Pakistan. But all the cases against him were rejected by the tax tribunals and high courts of the country and all his rights were restored by the Chief Election Commissioner.
In 1999, he was awarded the JOURNALISM UNDER THREAT AWARD by Amnesty International, UK, and the INTERNATIONAL PRESS FREEDOM AWARD by the Committee to Protect Journalists, New York.
In 2002 he launched Daily Times, an independent national daily newspaper published from Lahore and Karachi and Islamabad. Like The Friday Times, this daily paper was an outspoken liberal humanist internationalist voice in the country. Its editorials constantly argued for peace with India, supported the war against Taliban-Al-Qaeda terror and opposed religious fundamentalism and extremism.
In August 2008, he launched AajKal, a national Urdu daily paper from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. Within a year, the paper became the most outspoken voice of rational discourse, internationalism and liberalism in the Urdu print media of Pakistan.
In 2007 he set up Beyond Borders, a public interest production company for South Asia television channels. The mission statement of this project was to promote South Asian cultures, build confidence and trust and sustain democracy, civil society and human rights in the region. The company produced 13 short films on the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 based on the short stories of the grand literary masters of India and Pakistan. It also produced a serial titled ROOTS, which is a compilation of interviews of famous Indians and Pakistanis who crossed over to the “other” country at the time of partition and have inspiring stories to tell of the warmth, love, humanity and affection of the “other” community. The aim of these projects is to build trust between Indians and Pakistanis, Hindus and Muslims, and promote the cause of peace in the region. The project was wound up after India-Pakistan relations deteriorated in the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai in 2008.
In 2007-8, he received open death threats from the Taliban-Al Qaeda and the Taliban’s mouthpiece in Waziristan did a cover story in which it identified Najam Sethi as an “enemy of Islam”. Radical Islamists demonstrated against his papers in Islamabad and openly called for his elimination.
He was awarded the Golden Pen Press Freedom Award from the World Association of Newspapers in 2009 for courage in upholding human rights and press freedom.
Najam Sethi has received written and telephonic death threats from Al Qaeda and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. He has accordingly been provided 24 hour armed security by the government of Pakistan. He has disregarded the advice of the authorities to leave the country and continues to edit his papers independently as well as continues to anchor a popular TV show on Channel 24HD.
In March 2013, he was nominated by the PPP and endorsed by the PMLN as the neutral consensus Chief Minister of Punjab to oversee the general elections. Later, he was nominated as the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. His talk-shows continue to enjoy high ratings.
Najam Sethi: A Resume
He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Friday Times, and the former Founding Editor-in-Chief of Daily Times and Daily Aajkal.
He has been the Pakistan Correspondent of The Economist, London, from 1990 to 2008, and of The Economist Intelligence Unit from 1999-2005.
He is Chairman of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, the country’s apex body of printers and publishers.
He is the Secretary General of the Pakistan International Book Fair Trust which organizes an international book fair annually in Lahore.
He served as the Chairman of the Afro-Asian Book Council, the apex literary institution headquartered in New Delhi, India, for the promotion of the literature of the two continents.
He has served as senior Vice President of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, the apex body of national editors, and is on the standing committee of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, the apex body of national newspaper publishers.
He was a Minister for Political Affairs & Accountability in the Federal Government of Pakistan (interim) in 1996-97.
In 2008 he was unanimously elected Secretary-General of the South Asia Media Commission to defend media rights, a post he vacated in 2011.
He has served as the Vice Chairman, South Asia Foundation, Pakistan.
He was on the Board of Directors of the International Copyright Protection Board of Pakistan from 2000-2008.
He is a regular commentator for various international radio and TV channels including BBC TV and Radio, Radio Deutchewelle, Zee TV, Star TV, VOA Radio, PBC, NDTV, CNN-IBN TV, ABC TV, Radio Australia, Radio Iran, NPR, ARY TV, GEO, etc.
He has made a documentary for BBC titled: “The inside story of the coup in 1999”. He was the “correspondent” in it.
He has lectured at the National Institute of Public Administration in Lahore, the National Defense College, Rawalpindi, the National Institute of Public Affairs, Lahore, Lahore School of Management Sciences (LUMS) and the Civil Services Academy, Lahore. All these national institutes are engaged in the task of educating the managers and bureaucrats of Pakistan into issues of governance and accountability.
He has given inaugural lectures at the Eqbal Ahmad Foundation in Islamabad and the Asian College for Journalism in Chennai, India.
He has written for the Op Ed pages of The Wall Street Journal (USA), The International Herald Tribune, The Independent (UK), The Indian Express (India), The Telegraph (India), and his signed articles and editorials have been translated and published by international papers and magazines in Italy, Germany and France.
He is a frequent speaker at international conferences in London, Paris, Geneva, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Germany, India, Italy, Thailand, on matters related to Press Freedom, Corruption, Nuclear Proliferation, CBMs and National Security Policy in South Asia.
He is an International Trustee of the ASIA SOCIETY in New York and of The Leaders Project, Washington DC, established by former US Defense Secretary Bill Cohen.
In 2011, his alma mater, Clare College, Cambridge University, UK, nominated him as Alumni of 2011 and conferred the Eric Lane Fellowship on him.
He continues to receive death threats from militant Islamic groups who are violently opposed to the liberal values and views that he espouses in his interviews, editorials and articles which are regularly published in English and Urdu papers.
His editorials in The Friday Times since 2001 can be accessed at www.thefridaytimes.com (username guest and password is abc234).
The editorials of Daily Times were either written by Najam Sethi or based on his exclusive briefings to his editorial writers and daily edited and subbed by him personally from April 2002 to October 2009. These are available at www.dailytimes.com.pk in the archives section.
e-mail: [email protected]