Journalists at peril

Last month we lost journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad to faceless murderers because of his hard-hitting reporting. It is alleged that the ISI, Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, is behind his death. Last week Waqar Kiani, who works for the Guardian, was badly beaten up by men in police uniform in Islamabad who wanted to ‘make an example’ of him. This took place less than a week after Mr Kiani went public with his account of how he had been picked up and tortured back in 2008 by “suspected Pakistani intelligence agents” as per a report published in the Guardian. A journalist from Shujabad, Khalid Mehmood, was picked up last week by unknown men. Mehmood’s family blames the security agencies for his disappearance. Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), has received direct threats to his life from a sensitive agency. Mr Alam is no stranger to threats and attacks by the agencies but to receive such threats from the highest quarters in the present climate is no laughing matter. This climate of threats and worse to journalists is serious and troubling.

Journalism is not an easy job to begin with and apart from a few exceptions, it does not pay well either. Despite all this, journalists all over Pakistan continue to do their jobs by bringing to light important issues. They have to face danger all the time. Many of them have either been injured or lost their lives while covering bomb blasts, ethnic clashes, etc. Most recently, Shafiullah Khan, a young tribal journalist working for an English daily lost his life after incurring serious burn injuries in the twin blasts at Khyber Super Market, Peshawar. This shows how risky a profession journalism has become. On the other hand, journalists are harassed, intimidated, threatened, kidnapped and in some cases even killed by ‘invisible’ murderers. In most cases there is no concrete evidence to go after the perpetrators. Even when there is evidence, not many have the power to convict the all-powerful personnel of the security state.

This culture of impunity must come to an end or many more journalists will have to go through what their unfortunate colleagues have been through in the past. If the security agencies think our media can be stopped from functioning under such adverse circumstances and they can silence the journalist community’s voice, they are in for a surprise. Despite the looming threats, Pakistani journalists will not take this lying down any longer and will continue to bring to light the truth. The sooner the state apparatus comes to terms with this fact, the better.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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