Journalist Detained, Asked about Hamid Mir, Bangladesh | Media Watch

Reporter Rasool Dawar has been detained twice by security forces in an order he calls "torturous."

Reporter Rasool Dawar, pictured here with his children, has been detained twice by security forces in an ordeal he calls “torturous.”

May 04, 2015 — On two separate occasions, Geo Television correspondent, Rasool Dawar, has been detained by security forces for reasons that remain unclear. In one incident, plainclothes officials picked up Dawar making it difficult to know their exact identities.

On February 20th, Dawar was picked up in Peshawar by security officials, blindfolded and interrogated. His captors asked him about his work and his dealings with Hamid Mir, a prominent television anchor who was shot last year and injured by gunmen.

Some speculated that it was Mir’s political discussions, including mentions of Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest restive province where the state is battling an insurgency, that led to the attack. Balochistan has long focused the concerns of the state. Activist Sabeen Mahmud who founded the café and discussion space The Second Floor in Karachi, was killed last week right after holding a public discussion on the issue.

Dawar was also asked about the politics of the television channel he works for, Geo Television as well as about the owner of the channel, Mir Shakeel ur-Rehman. Geo TV is also Hamid Mir’s employer. Pakistan’s media regulatory board censured the channel last year after it aired accusations made by Mir’s brother that the country’s intelligence agencies were behind the attack on Mir. Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, or PEMRA, suspended the channel’s license for 15 days and imposed a hefty fine.

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The television arm of Pakistan’s oldest Urdu language media company, the Jang Group, Geo has been one of the most popular and widely watched private television channels. Its ratings suffered, however, after the channel’s frequency was changed on several occasions making it difficult for the public to find the channel on air. The shift in public discussions from concern over the attack on Mir to Geo’s airing of allegedly baseless accusations also damaged the company.

As the world marks Press Freedom Day, Dawar’s account is a chilling reminder of the efforts to clamp down on speech by private and state actors. These stories are often difficult to corroborate, but they point to the propagation of fear by murky, unnamed actors.

What follows is Dawar’s account of his detentions. This narrative is published in the interest of press freedom and to illustrate the general difficulties that Pakistani journalists face.

Detained by security forces

Dawar says he was picked up for the first time outside of his office in Khyber Super Market located in the Peshawar cantonment. He had gone to a mechanic’s workshop to pick up his motorbike when plainclothes security personnel arrived, asked him his name and promptly arrested him. His captors demanded to know why he was in the cantonment. “I told them that eight months ago, I was a resident of the cantonment for almost two and a half years,” says Dawar, “and now it is on the route that I take from my home to the office.”

The security officials refused to allow Dawar to call his office although his bureau chief did manage to contact him for a brief conversation. Another colleague who contacted Dawar instructed him to cooperate fully. The personnel loaded Dawar into a personnel vehicle standing at a checkpoint some 200 meters from his office and drove him elsewhere. Before the ride and during it, Dawar says, he repeatedly asked the officials what was going on.

“I kept on entreating them about the way they had taken me and told them that I would not have tried to run away. I told them that if they had just texted me even once, I myself would have come immediately to their office. Yet, they would not reply.”

Dawar says an official met him at the office where he was taken inside and told to stand facing the wall in the office lounge. “Two servicemen with guns were appointed to keep a watch over me.” The personnel took everything from Dawar’s pockets: cards, money, and a USB key. He was asked to sign a form detailing the items that were taken from him.

“I was blindfolded and they were about tie my hands too, but I pleaded with them not to do that. Then I was made to sit in a corner beside the wall. Two servicemen came and started asking me questions about my name, father’s name, age, children, residence address, education and even the family background. After answering these questions, they asked me what my designation was at GEO TV since I work there. They asked me how many times I have been on air, my income and demanded to know what I report on.”

Interrogation: Hamid Mir, Bangladesh

As the interrogation began, Dawar says he attempted to answer the questions honestly telling the officials that he reported on the insurgency in the Tribal Areas, drone attacks, and displaced persons from Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The questions moved towards Geo television, claims Dawar. “After this, they asked, ‘What kind of channel is Geo?’”

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“I replied, ‘It’s the country leading channel. They give authentic news and entertainment to the people according to state policy.’ Then they asked me about Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and whether I had any relation to him. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘He is the head of our TV channel, a patriotic Pakistani, and has employed thousands in the country.’”

The officials, Dawar stated, appeared to be satisfied with that response and began to query him about Hamid Mir instead. “Then they asked, ‘Do you know Hamid Mir? Who is he?’ I replied, ‘Yes. He is one of the top anchorpersons of a leading TV channel.’”

Then they asked Dawar how many times and where he had personally met with Mir. Dawar says he gave them the details of his only meeting with the anchorman during celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Peshawar press club.

Finally, the officials became more blunt in their questioning and demanded to know Dawar’s views on the targeted attack on Mir. “Then he asked, ‘What do you think about this incident?’ I said, ‘Whoever it was that shot him was not good. There is constitution, law, and courts in this country. And, even if he has done something wrong, he should not have been shot. He is not an ordinary man. The country faced embarrassment in the world due to this incident.’”

Dawar says that the official dismissed Geo TV as a channel that airs propaganda against the state.

“It was only right to air his brother’s opinion after he [Hamid Mir] was injured,” Dawar says he told the official adding that perhaps Geo should not have constantly re-aired the interview.

The official then asked whether Dawar knew Mubasher Luqman, another journalist who works for ARY television before moving on to query the reporter about his thoughts on the separation of East Pakistan and the independence of Bangladesh. “I told them I was not yet born at that time so I don’t have much information about it, but according to what I have read, the separation happened on the basis of some 52 percent of the seats and due to political tensions.”

Dawar says the official then began to ask him about his contacts, specifically with the Taliban and with intelligence agencies. “For the sake of gathering news, I have contacts with the militants’,” Dawar says he told his interrogator, “ ‘They email and call every journalist that covers the ‘War on Terror’.” Dawar also stated that he had contacts with intelligence officials for news stories on drone attacks and bomb blasts in the Tribal Areas, particularly North Waziristan.

Dawar claims that two men arrived at this point and proceeded to ask him the same questions. He was finally let go, put into a vehicle and dropped off at another office.

There, the “official in front of me told me, ‘Relax, now you are safe. Why did those people from country’s terrorism department take you?’”

Released but questions remain

Dawar says he was served tea and cake and told that he was no longer under arrest.

“After some trust had developed, we talked freely about some other issues and I asked one of the men regarding my record, so he brought my file and told me about the two phone calls I had made with the Punjabi Taliban before Operation Zarb-e-Azb in which they (Punjabi Taliban) had asked me why their news headline was not airing. I told them that it had been sent to the Karachi office, and it will be aired. They persisted and said that all the other channels are already airing it. So, I told them that I would contact the office.”

Dawar’s items were finally returned to him, and he called his Peshawar bureau chief, Mahmood Jan, to inform him that he would head to the office where Jan was already waiting for him with his team.

“It was 12:30 at night when I was dropped from a car near the FATA Secretariat, which was a kilometer away from my home and was told, ‘Go, we have dropped you with dignity.’ I asked if I could be dropped at my office or near my home. They said, just go. So, I started and called home that I am on my way.”

“A few days after this incident,” claims Dawar, “the official who had interrogated me called me and asked me to come near Khalid Bin Walid Park in the cantonment area. When I arrived, he made small talk with me and then allowed me to go.”

Detained again

Dawar was released only to be detained again two months later on April 14th — this time by the Pakistani police. A policeman approached Dawar and asked him to meet the station head officer at Gulbahar Station in Peshawar. “As I reached the Station House Officer (SHO), he arrested me and put me in lock-up in the basement of the office. The room was full of filth and dirt and I still can’t forget the stinking smell of the room.”

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Dawar was blindfolded and handcuffed. After two hours at the police station, the SHO took Dawar to the cantonment and once the blindfold was removed, he found himself in the same office where he had been interrogated two months earlier.

This time, however, the security officials blamed the police for the detention. But, the policemen for their part were still not ready to release him. “They…advised me to leave town for a few days, and I shifted to Islamabad for five days. When I returned to Peshawar, the same officials called my office on our office phone number and asked about my whereabouts. Again, I had no option but to leave Peshawar for Islamabad.”

As a result, Dawar alleges he was forced to leave Peshawar twice and stay in Islamabad even though his family is in Peshawar where they remain after being displaced due to Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Free speech and media hierarchies

Pakistan is considered one of the most difficult countries in which to work as a journalist. Dawar’s experiences highlight the strained conditions under which reporters – particularly local journalists – conduct their work.

Local journalists are usually the frontline reporters without whom the work of the media, particularly foreign correspondents and the international media, is not possible. Yet, they rarely receive protection, acknowledgement or even adequate pay.

Dawar terms the time he spent detained “torturous.”

“I am gravely concerned about my safety as it is still uncertain when all this is going to end. The threat is not yet over. This is the first time in my nine-year journalistic career that I have experienced such a frightening situation in which I was even physically harassed.”

And, he says that he worries about working. “I still feel frightened and I am not comfortable in continuing my professional duties in a free manner.”

As the world marks, press freedom day, it appears that the Pakistani state is once again clamping down on free speech.

“You are aware of the environment in which we live and work for the last several years,” says Dawar, “In our part of the country such incidents can neither be ignored nor taken for granted.‎”

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud is a Tanqeed contributing editor and a journalist for the New York Times.

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One Response to Journalist Detained, Asked about Hamid Mir, Bangladesh | Media Watch

  1. Hamza Ali on May 2015 at 4:35 AM

    Are you kidding me? YOUR NATIONAL ASSEMBLY on record said that Bangali’s need to go to the bushes and don’t need toliet seats when high quality of sanity ware was distributed among the west Pakistan politicians … Have you any idea what you did in East Pakistan? Are you blind of what is happening in Baluchistan and Karachi? How blind are you? I don’t give a damn about Hamid Mir nor his father.. But to see Pakistani’s so aloof from realities boils my blood. Get some REAL education please. And yes i am a Pakistani.

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