Impunity for crimes against journalists prevailing in Pakistan

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: Photo shared by Zaman Mehsud's family/
: Photo shared by Zaman Mehsud’s family/

Lahore: November 3 was a routine day for Zaman Mehsud, who did know that he was in the line of fire of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Zaman left home to find out a story about human rights violation in his area. When he crossed the army check post in the area of Dabbra Mohajir Camp, Tank, two unknown assailants pierced five bullets into his body, his brother Aslam Mehsud said.

A day before on November 2, he had observed the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists along with other journalists. Without knowing that soon he would be the topic of this discussion in a country where journalists are hardly protected by the state or their own media organizations. Responsibility of his murder was claimed by TTP-Saifullah Group.

Zaman Mehsud served as president and secretary general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and worked for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat, and for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2015 Global Impunity Index, Pakistan ranks ninth among the countries where the killers of journalist are not prosecuted and convicted.

Experts hold that in the culture of impunity, the cycle of violence increases, emboldening the enemies of the freedom of expression.

The International Federation of Journalists listed Pakistan as the most dangerous country for the journalists in 2014.

According to research conducted by the Pakistan Press Foundation, a Pakistan based NGO, 71 journalists and media workers have lost their lives in the line of duty since 2001. Out of these 47 were assassinated in target killing.

Some High profile cases of targeted killing involved the murder of Wali Khan Babar, a 28-year-old reporter who was killed in Karachi on January 2011. Saleem Shahzad was found dead in Islamabad in June 2011. Hamid Mir survived the attack on his life in Karachi on April 2014.

Aslam Mehsud told News Lens Pakistan that Police picked up a few witnesses from the areas but they led nowhere. “We are in touch with the police. They have so far been unable to identify the criminals,” said Mehsud.
When News Lens Pakistan contacted the District Police Officer Rasool Shah, he said, no one had been arrested and he was not sure if anyone would be arrested in near future. He feared the assassins might have fled to South Waziristan, the tribal area adjacent to Tank, where Pakistan police has no jurisdiction.

The case of Zaman’s murder was registered under Anti-Terrorism Act. News Lens Pakistan contacted Superintendent Police of Counter Terrorism Department Tank, Noor Muhammad. He said his department had not received any file or instructions about the case. Therefore he had not initiated any investigation.

Talking to News Lens Pakistan about the attitude of the police, the Chief Editor, Frontier Post, Rehmat Khan Afridi, said that the government had failed to provide safety to public and until recently, people were being mercilessly killed in Karachi and other parts of the country.

“Our police are not trained, equipped or independent to investigate cases because of which the process of persecution has suffered. The government has provided security to some newspapers and channels in order to patronize them,” said Afridi.

The representative of Reporter without Boarder in Pakistan, Iqbal Khattak said that the culture of impunity had emboldened the criminals to hit or kill journalists conveniently. Almost 100 journalists, he said, had been killed in Pakistan since 2002 out of which prosecution was initiated only in the murder cases of Daniel Pearl and Wali Khan Babar.

The trend of self-censorship, Khattak, said was gaining traction in journalists operating in conflict areas such as KP, Balochistan and FATA.

“Journalists are hiding news for fear of their lives. This culture of self-censorship negates the culture of freedom of expression a democratic country endeavors to develop. When a journalist cannot give news because of threat from the non-state or state actors, the whole business of ‘news making’ being the watchdog of the society comes under question,” said Khattak

Farooq Mehsud, ex-president Laddah Press Club told News Lens Pakistan that since the implementation of National Action Plan, the electronic and print media had been restricted from giving coverage to banned organizations. The threats to the lives of the journalists, he said, had since increased because the banned organizations considered it a violation of their right to inform the people about their activities against the military operation.

Commenting on the ban, Mazhar Abbass, former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, said whenever a blanket ban was imposed on converge of the proscribed organizations, its backlash was always severe and threatening to the lives of the journalists. When Balochistan High Court, he added, restricted media outlets from giving airtime or print space to the banned organizations, hardly any media house could abide by the decision. In fact, a lot many journalists ended up facing cases in anti-terrorist courts. They argued that languishing in jail was far better than losing their lives. He emphasized that before putting any such restriction it is the duty of the government and the owners of the media houses to provide for the protection and safety of the journalists.

Having lamented over the inefficiency of the prosecution system of the country, Abbas criticized the owners of the media houses by calling them opportunists. The salaries of the journalists, he said, did not commensurate to the risk involved to their lives and profession.

“Journalists in the conflict-ridden areas such as FATA, Balochistan and KP are working in three to four organizations simultaneously that affects quality and increases the risk,” said Abbas.

A CPJ board member, Kati Marton, had been in close contact with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif about violence against media personnel. According to the interview she gave to a Qatar based newswire, her organization kept a ‘fairly intense pressure’ on the Nawaz government through letters, alerts and blog. However, she said no serious effort was made to prosecute the killers of journalists.
Federal Minister for information, Pervaz Rashid, told News Lens about the steps the government had taken to provide protection to the journalists.

“We have appointed special prosecutors, developed a hotline and created a special witness protection system to avoid meeting the fate of Wali Babar case wherein all the 11 witnesses had been killed,” said Rashid

However when News Lens Pakistan asked the minister about the fate of Hamid Mir’ commission report, he threw the ball in the court of the judges.

Hamid Mir, a veteran journalist who survived a terrible attack, reacting over Zaman Mehsud’s murder, said that after the 18thAmendment, it was the responsibility of the provincial government, (in this case KP) to provide protection to the journalists in its region. However, for Islamabad he said journalists and media houses were completely secured.

Secretary information KP, Abid Majeed, told News Lens Pakistan that the government had established ‘Journalist Endowment Fund KP’, to compensate journalists in their time of trial and tribulation.

“We provide one million rupees to the family of the deceased journalists. As far as Zaman’s case is concerned, we have not been approached by anyone from the press club he belonged. We have an SOP that the request for the compensation should come through the press club,” said Majeed.

According to a press report, Naseer Azam Mehsud and Farooq Mehsud from DIG Khan and South Waziristan respectively have left their areas for Islamabad on threats from the Taliban. The militants have kidnapped Shah Zaman who is also President Laddah Press Club. Naseer Azam and Farooq Mehsud had worked for News Lens Pakistan in 2014-15.

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