COMMENT: Pakistani journalists, security agencies and the state — Musa Khan Jalalzai

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According to international media, more than 48 journalists have been killed in Pakistan by various terror groups and state agencies in the last few years

Pakistani and international print and electronic media have been publishing heartbreaking reports on the harassment of journalists by Pakistan state security agencies and militant groups since 9/11. The Taliban, sectarian groups and the ISI are harassing working journalists and have now decided to translate their threat into action. Two years ago, international community ranked Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous state for journalists.

Pakistani journalists have been receiving bad treatment from state authorities since September 2011, as the country became a frontline state in the war against terrorism. Hundreds of media workers and investigative journalists received death threats over the last 11 years and many of them are still living in fear. In a latest freedom of press index released by Reporters Without Border, Pakistan dropped eight places to 158th out of 179 states. Experts believe that failure of Pakistani establishment to provide security to journalists’ families is a major factor contributing to Pakistan’s shameful reputation as a graveyard for journalists.

Risks to the lives of media men have increased the last few years. Moreover, war in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Waziristan, Aurakzai and Karachi along with sectarian and ethnic terrorism and actions of ‘murder squad’ of the intelligence agencies have also led to the killings of local journalists. In January 2013, three more journalists were killed in Quetta. In Karachi recently, terming Pakistan as a dangerous place for journalists, speakers at a media workshop said that 65 journalists were killed during the last five years. Speaking aboutvulnerability of journalists, speakers said that on an average one journalist was killed every 28 days.

According to international media, more than 48 journalists have been killed in Pakistan by various terror groups and state agencies in the last few years. Among these journalists, 14 were from Khyber Pakhtukhwa, 12 from Balochistan, nine from Sindh and three from Punjab province. The number of incarcerated, missing, intimidated and harassed journalists is unknown. In view of these threats and harasment, dozens of Pakistani journalists relinquished their profession and moved to safe places with their families. Last year, from January to December seven journalists were killed. In 2011, 16 journalists were killed by Pakistani intelligence agencies and extremist groups.

Before going into the detail of journalist Mr Saqib Raja’s heartbreaking story and the murder of his son, I would like to highlight the attitude of Pakistani establishment and its intelligence agencies towards journalists in brief.

Well-known journalist Mr Saleem Shehzad was kidnapped, tortured and later found dead in a canal. Many people in Pakistan are confident that the ISI was behind his murder.

Another sad story of the brutal killing of a Pakistani journalist Malik Mumtaz in North Waziristan appeared in the last week of January 2013. According to a Geo Television report, Mumtaz came under attack near the Chashma Bridge. Mumtaz was recently elected president of the Miranshah Press Club. Another senior journalist Mr Khushnood Ali Sheikh, the chief reporter of the state controlled Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), was killed in Karachi by mafia groups. He was killed in February 25, 2013 as he refused to pay Rs, 50,000 in extortion.

An addition to the above mentioned attitude of Pakistani establishment towards journalists, recently, another Pakistani journalist came under attack for his courageous investigative reporting Journalist Mr Saqib Raja who fled Pakistan in fear of his family’s safety claimed asylum in the UK. He is the son of a mother who served as a doctor and a father who served as a high ranking police officer in Pakistan. In 1997, Raja became widely regarded as the best crime reporter in Pakistan. He reported Benazir Bhutto’s assassination case, suicide attacks, and the case of the British boy Sahil who was kidnapped for ransom. He also reported the story of government corruption where a cabinet resignation followed. Raja exposed the flawed strategies of Pakistan’s brutal war against the people of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Raja was a brilliant young journalist who in pursuit of truth and in the interest of his country exposed what was bad and wrong. It is conceivable that he made some powerful people upset by reporting their crimes and corruption. Military establishment was also after him while ISI was angrier with him.

Raja wrote a letter to the president and prime minister of Pakistan asking for security for his family but was refused. Professor Hamid Asghar of Gujjar Khan District, in a letter to a national daily, defended Raja and said that some elements were maligning his position and he was receiving death threats.

During the last days of December in 2010, his son was found dead in mysterious circumstances. He son was allegedly poisoned by Pakistani intelligence agencies or terrorist groups. They chased Raja contantly, but he had by then considered that his whole family was at risk. Raja subsequently sent his wife and daughters into hiding and fled to the UK with his remaining son, where he hopes to be less recognised and safer. Loss of his son has had a considerable impact upon his mental health. He currently considered that there is no happiness light or hope since his son was poisoned. In view of the attitude of Pakistani government and its security agencies towards journalists, Asian Human rights Commission urged Pakistani establishment to implement the article 19 of the constitution and the UN political right law regarding the freedom of expression. Government must also provide protection to working journalists.

The writer is the author of Policing in Multicultural Britain and can be reached at zai.musakhan222@gmail.com

Source: Daily Times

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Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) is an independent media research, documentation and training centre working to promote and defend freedom of press.. Follow us on Twitter / Facebook.

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