The banned militant group Baloch Liberation Front ended the boycott of media in Balochistan which it had announced in October 2017. The buycott led to severe restrictions in distribution of newspapers in most parts of the province, closure of several press clubs and attacks on press clubs and newspaper distribution offices.
Talking to Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), senior journalist Shehzad Zulfiqar of Quetta Press Club confirmed that ‘the ban has been lifted and now press clubs are open in Baluchistan’. He added that ‘the press clubs in most conflicted zones of Makran division; Gwadar, Pasni & Panjgor are open’. The news was published in local media and newspapers.
In October 2017, Mureed Baloch, spokesperson of the outlawed separatist United Baloch Army (UBA) said Pakistani newspapers were an extension of the “Anti Baloch” policies of the state of Pakistan and gave an ultimatum that unless this changed by October 24, they will take severe action. He warned journalists to stay away from newspaper offices and press clubs and for newspaper distributors, news agents and sellers to cease their activities, failing which they would be shot.
In another statement, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), spokesperson Gahram Baloch warned journalists as well as owners of newspapers and television stations to stop hiding the facts about actions targeted against the Baloch. He said these same media groups were projecting other militant groups, including Al Qaeda and Taliban but were ignoring the cause of Baloch separatism. He said such a state of affairs is not acceptable and reaction against such actions by the media was their responsibility. He also stressed that effective measures will be taken after the expiry of the ultimatum.
In a separate statement BLF specifically criticized and warned three newspapers from Balochistan, namely daily Aazadi Quetta, daily Tawar and daily Intekhab for not providing coverage to the separatist, and militant groups in Balochistan. The statement added that BLF’s views were also endorsed by UBA and the Balochistan Liberation Army.
The escalation of threats by Baloch nationalists caused alarm and fear among journalists In Balochistan.
According to research by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), nineteen journalists have been deliberately targeted and murdered in Balochistan and many others were abducted, attacked and injured.
Impunity is almost absolute which has resulted in self-censorship becoming the norm in reporting on issues related to conflict in this province.