Journalists on the Run in Pakistan

Dec 2015
By TQ
SGL | Journo Rally 20151202

Journalists carry placards and banners with photos of their slain colleagues during a protest. 48 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since the “war on terror” began. | Dec 01, 2015

December 02, 2015 – To condemn the murders of their colleagues, journalists from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), demonstrated in the provincial capital, Peshawar, yesterday. Carrying banners with the photos of slain journalists, they demanded that the provincial government provide support for the media and reparations for families of the dead.

About 70 protesters marched from the Peshawar Press Club to the door of the Governor’s House where speakers addressed the crowd.

While speaking to the rally, former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists, Safdar Dawar, said that government officials evaded responsibility for following up on the murder of Zaman Mehsud, the latest journalist killed this year. Mehsud hailed from South Waziristan, a region belonging to the Tribal Areas which has its own special administrative status, but was shot dead in neighboring Tank, a provincial district on November 3rd this year. A faction of the Taliban has admitted to the killing.

“He was from the Tribal Areas, but he was killed in Tank, which is a provincial area,” explained Dawar. “But, neither of the local governments bothered to take responsibility, and the provincial government didn’t even bother to issue a condemnation.”

(From left): Safdar Dawar, former head of the Tribal Union of Journalists stands with Nisar Mahmood of Khyber Union of Journalists and Sailab Mehsud, founder of TUJ. | Dec 01, 2015

(From left): Safdar Dawar, former head of the Tribal Union of Journalists stands with Nisar Mahmood of Khyber Union of Journalists and Sailab Mehsud, founder of TUJ. | Dec 01, 2015

Dawar demanded that the government and the administrative apparatus of the Tribal Areas clarify who is responsible for investigating the murders of tribal journalists and holding their killers to account.

“We should not be kicked around like a football between the Tribal Areas administration and the provinicial government.”

One speaker pointed out that had the government properly investigated the murder of journalist Hayatullah Khan in 2006, there may not be such an atmosphere of impunity now. Khan was kidnapped by unknown assailants on December 05, 2005, the day after his photos made international headlines for exposing the secret U.S. drone program in Pakistan. Khan had photographed fragments of missile parts, contradicting Pakistani and American denials of the bombing of Waziristan. Six months later, he was found shot dead on June 16, 2006. A year later, his widow was killed when a bomb detonated outside her home.

Veteran journalist Sailab Mahsud, who founded the Tribal Union of Journalists, castigated the governor of Peshawar, Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan. “These people, who live behind such jungles in white bungalows,” said Mahsud referring to the rolls of razor wire, concrete blockades and high walls that surround the Governor’s House, “with police by the dozen standing guard at their gates with Kalashnakovs and tanks, live lives of pleasure. But, it is us journalists — from Waziristan to Bajaur, from [the province] Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to [Tribal Area] Shawal to Karachi — we are the people who are reporting the conflict.

Mahsud said that before Daesh and its destruction in the Middle East, it was FATA that was site of conflict and news. It was journalists — tribal journalists in particular — who provided information on what was happening in the Tribal Areas. Today, they continue to be targeted, but the government has failed to assist them in any way, said Mahsud.

Journalist on the run

One of the journalists receiving threats, Naseer Azam Mehsud, has had to flee his home in Tank. Mehsud, a young journalist, has been covering South Waziristan since 2008, most recently for Khyber News.

Before the killing of Zaman Mehsud, Naseer says he hadn’t paid attention to the threats that occasionally surfaced against journalists from various sources. But, then, Zaman was killed and Qari Saifullah, the spokesman of a Taliban faction issued threats to other journalists. “While claiming credit for killing Zaman, Qari Saifullah threatened to kill three other journalists because they are not giving coverage to Taliban stories. A fellow journalist informed me about the life threatening call from Qari Saifullah. Then, immediately I shifted.”

A Taliban commander alleged that Naseer was destroying the rituals and traditions of the Mehsud tribe by reporting on the tribe and putting its members in front of the camera. Following the allegation, Qari Saifullah threatened to kill Naseer.

But, Naseer says that journalists are also caught between the Taliban and its demand for coverage and the government’s ban. PEMRA has declared a ban on covering militant groups. “The groups began bothering us and for refusing to give them coverage, killed Zaman.”

“What is happening in FATA?”

Blockades, police and razor wire in front of Governor's House, Peshawar | Dec 01, 2015

Blockades, police and razor wire in front of Governor’s House, Peshawar | Dec 01, 2015

Compounding the issues for journalists from the Tribal Areas is the status of the region itself. Asking “What is happening in FATA?” Sailab Mahsud connected the plight of tribal journalists to that of FATA in general.

He said people returning to the devastated region after fleeing during the last operation, are being treated with hostility. “The kind of checkposts that they have to go through don’t exist between Israel and the Arab states. The kind of searches they have to go through and the humiliation they have to suffer is beyond what any human can tolerate.”

Last year, the Pakistani military launched operation Zarb-e-Azb, a massive ground and air assault on Waziristan to rout the Taliban and other militant groups. That operation has led to nearly a million internally displaced persons — including journalists — who are now awaiting to be allowed back home. Meanwhile, the military expanded the operation Khyber Agency and other parts of FATA.

While the government has claimed success, threats to journalists appear to be at an all time high — and they appear to be coming from the Taliban as well as governmental sources.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a US-based organization that advocates for press freedom, 48 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the last decade. The Tribal Union of Journalists says 14 of their members have been murdered. Twice, the Taliban have admitted responsibility. The other 12 murders remain unaccounted for, and none of the killers have been caught.

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