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Taliban Kills Three Journalists, Vows To Attacks “Propagandists” Again

                                                                        Pic courtesy RSF

Three TV journalists from the Express Media Group were murdered on January 17 in Karachi, capital of Pakistan’s violence-wracked Sindh. The Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility.
Media watchdogs expressed outrage at Islamabad’s lethargy in pursuing investigations into incidents of violence against journalists and media institutions by Islamist groups, government intelligence agencies and others, and said this had bred a culture of impunity. The January 17 incident is the third armed attack since August on the politically liberal Express Media Group.

“It is time that the Sharif government took its obligations seriously, to ensure justice is done and that the media is able to operate in Pakistan without fear of deadly reprisal. As long as impunity runs rife in Pakistan, journalists and media workers will continue to die,” said the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Similar sentiments were echoed by Pakistani and other international media freedom monitors.
Waqas Aziz (technician), Ashraf Yusuf (security guard) and driver Khalid Khan of ‘Express News,’ were killed when their van parked in North Nazimbad, a suburb of Karachi, during a routine coverage was attacked by four gunmen on two motorbikes who opened fire with silencer-fixed pistols through the vehicle’s open window. A cameraman, identified as Mehtab, also in the vehicle, survived the attack. IFJ said 17 shell casings from 9mm and 32-bore pistols were recovered from the crime.
IFJ and the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) seemed to accept that TTP was responsible for the incident. “TTP representative Ehsanullah Ahsan said his group was responsible for the shooting. Speaking by telephone on the ‘Express News‘ programme Kal Tak, he said that, ‘in the war of ideologies all media channels including ‘Express News‘ are acting as propagandist and as rival party,'” said RSF.
However, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed reservation. While noting that Ehsanullah Ehsan had contacted ‘Express News’ and indeed claimed responsibility for the attack and Reuters had reported that a “regional Taliban leader” had too claimed the attack, CPJ said, “The Taliban had also rushed to claim responsibility for the 2012 murder of Mukarram Khan Aatif, but local journalists soon cast doubt on their claim. Journalists in Pakistan are targeted not only by militants, criminals, and warlords, but also by political parties, the military, and intelligence operatives.”
While identity of the attackers are important what has outraged journalists most is the impunity enjoyed by the killers. RSF said, “[Ehsan] warned that the TTP would continue to attack all news media ‘that are involved in carrying out propaganda against us.’ Referring to an earlier attack on the ‘Express Media‘ group in December, [Ehsan] added: ‘We had not incurred any loss of life so we attacked them again.'”
There have been no arrests over the two earlier attacks on the Express Group. On August 17 four gunmen opened fire at the its offices in Karachi injuring a journalist and a security officer and on December 3 a homemade bomb was lobbed into the same premises wounding a security officer.
“Despite visiting the Express Media office in Karachi twice and constituting investigation teams to probe the two incidents, law enforcement agencies have been unable to arrest even a single perpetrator,” the IFJ charged.
The killing brings to four the number of journalists killed this year in Pakistan and 10 fatalities made the country the third worst for journalists and media workers in 2013, said IFJ. Pakistan ranks 159th of179 countries in RSF’s Media Freedom Index.

Mutilated Body of Journalist Found; Killers Unknown

Haji Abdul Razzak (Courtesy RSF)

The mutilated body of another murdered journalist – Haji Abdul Razzak of the Balochi-language daily, Tawar – who went missing in March was discovered in Karachi on Wednesday, August 21. He had been tortured to death.
According to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) Razzak’s body, found with that of another unnamed person’s, was so badly mutilated that the family took 24 hours to identify it.
“Journalists in Balochistan and the Tribal Areas are constantly the targets of intimidation and violence, and the impunity enjoyed by those who murder them just sustains this climate of terror. The authorities must end it at once by pursuing this investigation to its conclusion,” RSF said.
Four Balochs – Imran Shaikh, Saifur Rehman and Mohammad Iqbal killed a double bombing in Quetta and Mehmood Ahmed Afridi gunned down in Karat – are among a total of seven journalists killed in Pakistan this year, RSF reported.
Meanwhile, the statement by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) delineates the intimidating environment in which Razzak and other journalists work in Pakistan. CPJ said that Razzak had left the Tawar briefly after a journalist from the same newspaper, Javed Naseer Rind’s body was found in November 2011. Rind’s body had bullet wounds in the head and chest and bore marks of torture. But Razzak returned to work in 2012.
CPJ said that at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, Razzak’s family members had accused “Pakistani intelligence agencies of being responsible for the abduction, but did not elaborate.” RSF designates intelligence services with two others – Mullah Mohamad Omar and the Balochi separatists – as “predators of the media” in Pakistan.
Describing the daily Tawar as a “Urdu-language pro-Baluch nationalist newspaper,” CPJ says it “is known for its coverage of the many conflicts between rival groups and the government.” Both media watchdogs said Razzak was linked to a political party, with the CPJ going on to say it was the Balochi National Movement. RSF urged the Pakistani authorities to investigate Razzak’s murder not only to establish the motive but “determine whether it was linked to his work as a journalist.”
“Journalists from Baluchistan face pressure from a number of sources: pro-Taliban groups and Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, as well as Baluch separatists and state-sponsored anti-separatist militant groups,” CPJ observed
In an interviewto the Baloch Hal, well-known Balochi journalist Shezada Zulfiqar, replying to the question why journalists in Balochistan are so vulnerable replied, “Because they are before the public. They also go to separatist leaders, intelligence agencies, land lords, Sardars, Nawabs, etc. In these circumstances, journalists should be very cautious not to cross the ‘invisible red line.'”

Zulfiqar’s urges unity within the journalist fraternity for their protection. “Then they shall neither annoy security forces nor separatist elements by reporting anything against them.”

In Pakistan Landlords Torture Journalists

In countries subject to high levels of repression, prominent violators of media freedom remain the focus of rights groups. Meanwhile, smaller transgressors manage to dodge law enforcement authorities as well as other deterrents like public opinion, to continue their insidious practices. Pakistan is a good example.
Among the prominent abusers of media freedom in Pakistan are the country’s intelligence agencies, especially ISI. The New York-based Freedom House’s latest report– 2012 – speaks mainly about the restrictions the federal government places of media freedom both by enacting repressive legislation and targeting journalists critical of their work. “The physical safety of journalists remains a key concern. Intimidation by intelligence agencies and the security forces—including physical attacks and arbitrary, incommunicado detention—continues to take place.”
Other international media monitors too concentrate on the big fish. For instance, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) names “Mullah Mohammed Omar,” the “Baloch armed groups” and “intelligence services” among the predators of the media in Pakistan. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has documented the death of 10 journalists in Pakistan this year who have died in bomb blasts, murdered by criminals and targeted by government agencies.
But on Monday, August 19, RSFpublished a statement on two attacks – one on the offices of the Karachi-based Express Tribune and the other on journalist Zafar Wazir in South Waziristan in the Northwest Tribal areas. The killing of Wazir although outrageous is not the focus of this post, the attack on the Express is.
The English-language Express Tribune, the Urdu-language Express News and Express News TV. RSF quoting Express Tribune are located in the same buildings. RSF said two men on a motorbike had peppered the building with 22 shots injuring a two people, a woman and a security guard. RSF quoted Express News CEO Ijazul Haq as having “no clue” to who was responsible.
Writing in the Express Tribune, its editor Kamal Siddiqi enumerates the predators that target journalists in Pakistan. Among them he includes landlords. “At the Hyderabad Press Club, one hears daily the stories of how landlords torture journalists. Our fellow scribes are hung upside down, beaten blue, have their heads and eyebrows shaved as punishment. And yet they keep on writing.”
The landlords of Pakistan are not the ISI. They are mostly local notables living away from the city, with connections to local politicians and sufficient wealth to buy influence that keeps the local police from investigating the crime. What is more, they do not kill because that might compel the government to begin legal proceedings. On the contrary, they torture and humiliate journalists, who in the remote parts of the country lack the resources to fight them as their metropolitan counterparts do. Very little comes out about attacks on these district correspondents on whom Siddiqi bestows the accolade “bravest journalists” who “work in far off places, usually in isolation, and with little in terms of facilities or compensation. And yet they highlight day in and day out the injustices that surround them. The stories of police brutalities, of high handedness by landlords, of killings and beheadings by militants.”
We are yet unsure the causes of the attack on the Express Newspapers’ offices. But they serve to expose a source of muzzling the media in Pakistan that usually remains hidden.     

When The U.S. Is The One To Detain Foreign Journalists

We write a lot about Western journalists being jailed, detained, censored, and even killed while in countries that put minimal value on freedom of speech.

But when Pakistani journalist Rahman Bunairee, 34, sought refuge in the United States, he found himself denied access and detained for 10 days in U.S. custody.

Bunairee covered the actions of Islamic militants in Pakistan while reporting for Voice of America, and it was after these reports that he began receiving threats. According to The Washington Post, Bunairee’s home was destroyed with explosives by militants before they came looking for him at his work.

Contrary to the Pakistani government’s claims that the Taliban was no longer occupying the North Western region of the country, Bunairee reported that militant gunmen were still patrolling in several of the villages; reports that apparently angered the militant group enough to send them after him.

VOA quickly arranged for a visa to get him out of the country, but because the visa did not mention asylum (it was a for a 1-year scholarship program, which, although related to the work Bunairee was involved in, did not match his story when he arrive in the U.S.), he was detained upon arriving in Dulles International Airport.

After 10 days with out comment from U.S. customs officials or the Department of Homeland Security (who cited privacy concerns) Bunairee was finally released. Although he is out of custody, he is still working with lawyers to secure his asylum here in the United States.

Relieved by his release, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement saying, “Bunairee worked as a reporter on the front lines of a conflict of strategic importance to the United States and was brought to Washington by the US-funded Voice of America. We hope that his status in the US will be resolved quickly so he can resume his work as a journalist.”

If You Were Captured Abroad Would You Want it Kept Secret?

Many were shocked when the news broke that New York Times reporter David Rohde escaped after seven months in captivity in Pakistan. The details of his escape–including broken limbs and Taliban bribes –were notable in themselves, but most surprising was that hardly anyone knew about the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist locked away with Pakistani terrorists. In all the news of Roxana Saberi, Ling and Lee, and sadly, many more, where was Rohde’s media blitz?

As the story unraveled that the New York Times orchestrated a media blackout, convincing other news outlets and even Wikipedia not to cover the story in the interest of Rohde’s safety, the heated debate over self-censorship in the press began. And the controversy continues even as Rohde returned to work yesterday, to “perhaps the most sustained ovation ever heard in the paper’s newsroom” according to The Times and “resounding applause” as The Times’ Tim O’Brian puts it on Twitter.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of The Times said that it was after consultation with experts in kidnapping cases, government officials, and Rohde’s family that they decided that “going public could increase the danger to David and the other hostages.”

CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour recently interviewed about the incident on WowOWow said although she would like to hear Rohde’s thoughts on the controversy, she would want the world to know if something similar happened to her. “If I’m kidnapped I want you, personally, to lead the charge and make sure people know about it,” Amanpour said interviewer Lesley Stahl.

When reporter Jill Carroll of the Christian Science Monitor was kidnapped in Iraq in 2006, the Monitor reports it was “criticized in some quarters for seeking a brief news blackout.” “That effort ended after about two days, with major news outlets saying they could not continue to sit on a significant story,” writes Monitor correspondent Dan Murphy. Carroll was eventually freed despite media attention, but for many (myself included) the highly publicized capture and eventual murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 remains heavy in our minds and the desire to avoid another such tragedy seems to be influencing the decision to self-censor.

Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute and Matthew Ingram of the Nieman Journalism Lab both came out strongly against The Times’ media blackout, attracting much attention and criticism for questioning tactics that might have saved a man’s life. But there are two points that are hard to overlook. One is that Rohde escaped. He wasn’t rescued or released, he managed to evade his captors. And two is that even Rohde himself has hinted that his captors were merely looking for money, not political gain or to make an example of him.

As Ingram puts it, “the coverup has made things harder not just for future kidnapping victims such as Rohde, but for newspapers and other mainstream media outlets as a whole.”

It may seem counterintuitive to critique the handling of the situation now that Rohde is safely back on American soil, but if you were kidnapped abroad, would you want your story told or kept a secret?

Photo Credit: Tomas Munita for The New York Times