Reporters Without Borders condemns the appalling climate of intimidation reigning in Pakistan after an attack on provincial newspaper reporter Zafar Aaheer on 31 May and several attacks on newspaper distribution trucks in the past few days.
Aaheer, who reports for the Daily Jang newspaper in Multan, in the eastern province of Punjab, was attacked on his way home by gunmen, who beat him with the butts of their pistols, causing serious injuries.
“The attacks on Aaheer and the newspaper trucks were clearly designed to intimidate media workers and deter them from doing their work,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “Pakistan is already one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists and these constant attacks just reinforces the feeling of danger in which they have to operate.”
The latest attacks have come at a particularly tense moment for the media, which have been the target of a major smear campaign ever since the TV news station Geo News broadcast claims by its leading anchor, Hamid Mir, that the intelligence agencies were behind a shooting attack in which he was badly injured on 19 April.
As the Daily Jang is part of the same media group as Geo News, it is also one of the main targets of the campaign of smears and intimidation. Cable TV operators briefly suspended transmission of Geo TV after receiving threatening letters and in some cases also bullets.
The masked gunmen who attacked Aaheer on 31 May, smashing the window of his car, called him an “agent of the Indians and the Jews” and said: “You have escaped earlier and now you can’t.” A threatening letter sent to Daily Jang employees on 5 May urged them to leave this “traitor” media group and demanded the closure of its Peshawar offices.
Attacks on newspaper trucks
One of the most recent attacks on newspaper distribution trucks was in Rawalpindi on 30 May, when a dozen unidentified individuals armed with pistols and Kalashnikovs intercepted a truck with copies of The News bound for Islamabad.
They told the driver to get out if he wanted to save his life. When he refused to move, they opened fire without hitting the truck and then soaked it with kerosene and set it on fire. Similar methods were used in an attack on a truck carrying hundreds of copies of the Daily Jang and The News on 25 May.
The driver of a satellite news-gathering van was attacked and tortured by three individuals on 23 May before managing to escape. They doused the vehicle with gasoline but, before they could set it on fire, police arrived and they fled shouting death threats.
A similar attack was reported on a truck carrying thousands of copies of the Jang newspaper in Karachi. The driver was not hurt.
These attacks have forced the targeted newspapers to reprint many thousands of copies.
In response to the constant threats and harassment, the lead story on Geo News and in Jang on 26 May was an apology to the intelligence agencies for their coverage of the shooting attack on Hamid Mir, which they described as “excessive, distressful and emotional.”
Pakistan is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.