See More on Facebook

Current affairs

Families of fallen journalists await justice in Pakistan

More than 72 media personnel have been killed since 2002.


Written by

Updated: May 3, 2019

Murtaza Khan was flipping through TV channels when he saw the tickers: ‘unidentified men open fire at car’, ‘suspects open fire on private news channel vehicle’ and finally, ‘man killed’. It took him a few seconds to realise that he was watching a live update of his brother Wali’s death.

From what Murtaza recalls of that day in January 2011, 29-year-old Wali Babar Khan was on his way home from work. He had been covering an operation against drug traffickers in Karachi’s Pehlwan Goth neighbourhood.

“Wali was a promising reporter. He was always curious about people — especially the downtrodden. He wanted to help get their story out,” said Murtaza while talking to Dawn.

According to Murtaza, the eldest of Wali’s seven siblings, his brother was not interested in pursuing medicine or engineering but wanted to choose his own path. “He told me to not worry about him and that he had a plan. He was interested in the media and eventually landed a job with Geo,” said Murtaza, adding that his brother was excited the first time his story was aired on TV.

In one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, where more than 72 have been killed since 2002, the Wali Babar case is exceptional — the first-ever conviction for the murder of a Pakistani journalist. Before this, there was just Daniel Pearl.

On assignment

This list of 72 includes 48 journalists who were deliberately targeted and murdered — such as Daily Ausaf’s Hayatullah Khan whose body was found in 2006 by villagers in Mirali, North Waziristan, from where he had been abducted a year earlier. He was shot in the back of the head. Hayatullah had earlier reported that an Al Qaeda commander had been killed by a US missile — contradicting the government’s version. The apex court took suo motu notice of his murder and called an inquiry — but nothing has been done so far.

In Balochistan, there was Irshad Mastoi of the ARY Group. Mastoi, an assignment editor, was killed along with a reporter and accountant when unknown gunmen ambushed the newsroom in 2014. While no one assumed responsibility for the attack, law enforcement agencies claimed that the accused were killed in an encounter.

Except for five cases, including Daily Tawar’s sub-editor Javed Naseer Rind, most of these murders remain unsolved and their perpetrators unpunished, according to ‘State of Pakistani Media in 2018’, a reportlaunched by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF).

The report focuses on instances of crimes against the media — where journalists were killed, murdered, abducted, assaulted, detained; and threatened by law enforcement agencies, militants, feudal lords, and tribal leaders. TV channels, newspapers, websites and social media were blocked and banned. Media personnel and media organisations were threatened and pressured by state and non-state actors.

It suggests that successive governments have appeared reluctant to probe the murders of journalists.

Cold case

Eight years ago in May 2011, the body of Saleem Shahzad was found in a canal, around 150km from Islamabad from where he was abducted earlier by unidentified men. His body, it is reported, bore marks of torture.

His death came as a shock to his family.

“We were in denial for a few days. He had come back from a sticky situation in Afghanistan. We were sure he would come home to us,” said his daughter.

Shahzad, who was working for Asia Times Online and Adnkronos International, had just reported on the PNS Mehran attack in Karachi earlier that month.

“The children knew that when Saleem was working, they were not to bug him. He would tell me to put the children to sleep so he could concentrate or he would go into his home office to write,” said Saleem Shahzad’s widow.

“He was passionate about his work. When we met he was still studying and working with the Malaysian consulate. He was a kind man,” she added.

According to the PFF report, the EU Promotion of Human Rights in Pakistan Project’s Ali Dayan Hassan said that Shahzad had told him his life was in danger. While the then PPP government did launch an inquiry into the case and a judicial commission was set up, nothing happened.

“Previous inquiries into the murder of journalists have not been made public and it is not clear if the fate of this inquiry would be any different,” said the report.

It added that the investigation officer of the case said it had been closed for the time being due to lack of evidence.

Communication breakdown

One decade later, the 2009 shooting of Janullah Hashimzada, Shamshad TV bureau chief and BBC correspondent, remains unsolved. Hashimzada was shot at least six times and killed by masked assailants who intercepted a minibus he was travelling in.

Unlike Pearl, whose case was solved, there was no court case or investigation into Hashimzada’s murder.

According to the PFF’s province-wise breakdown of media violence since 2002 (48 cases), there were at least seven known cases, the majority of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in which journalists were targeted for reporting on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

The report also looks at several instances where cases were closed because no arrests were made or due to lack of evidence. In more than one case there was no progress because the accused were on the run. In at least three cases the accused were awarded life imprisonment.

According to the report, in a majority of cases action was taken by ‘unidentified persons’ while three deaths were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army, one by the Junejo tribe and two by an IED.

In total, only five cases have been fully solved; four are still pending before the court, four under investigation and inquiry; and more than 24 were not applicable/no case.

Assault & abduction

In the report, PPF said that it investigated six journalists’ murder cases in 2018. However, they determined that the primary motives of these murders were personal or business animosities and rivalries rather than relating to their work as journalists.

Physical assault continued to be a chronic problem for Pakistani journalists. According to the research, there were at least 22 cases of physical assault in which five journalists were injured while 25 others were beaten and manhandled to stop them from performing their professional duties.

Abducting journalists is another common tactic to stop media practitioners from expressing their views on sensitive issues. PPF documented three cases of abduction and attempted abduction last year — this included Gul Bukhari, writer and columnist of The Nation; Taha Siddiqui, reporter of France 24New York Times and The Guardian; and Zaibdar Marri, president of the Kohlu Press Club and correspondent of Express News.

Talking about the current state of media and unsolved cases, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ president Afzal Butt said that in the last couple of years there has been “unannounced and unofficial” censorship.

Sometimes, he added, it refreshed his memories of different dictatorships the country has been through.

“Before we could shout and fight but now it is impossible to do so. The pay cuts and lay-offs have made our situation worse. For journalists in Pakistan there is no job or life security,” he said.

Closed doors

Along with journalists, press clubs across the country have also been pressured into silence. In Khuzdar, for example, the president of the press club, Mohammad Khan Sasoli, was shot dead in 2010. Four years later, the press club had to be shut down after journalists associated with the club received threats from militants. Similarly in 2017, the Kharan, Chagai, Kalat and other press clubs were also forced to shut down after office-bearers and reporters received threats.

Fast forward to November 2018: “The forcible intrusion by armed personnel into the premises of Karachi Press Club (KPC) was the first in the club’s 60-year existence. KPC termed it an outcome of an ongoing campaign to subdue the press on the part of state and non-state actors,” the PPF report claimed.

Read: Law enforcers entered Karachi Press Club due to ‘misunderstanding’, clarifies Sindh govt

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Bajaur Press Club was closed on Nov 13, 2018, on the orders of senior local administration officers due to the fear of terrorist attack. Bajaur Press Club’s president said the senior officials informed them of the threat, which led its members to shutter the club for 10 days.

Attacking the residence of a journalist is also used as pressure tactic on journalists, as they become overly cautious for the stake of their families’ safety. One such example of this in 2018 was the attack on the house of Manzoor Bughio, reporter of Channel 24, in Shaheed Benazirabad.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Current affairs

Haze: Ministry urges bosses to allow workers to work from home

The haze has affected Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Human Resources Ministry has recommended employers to implement flexible work policies during the ongoing haze period and allow workers to work from home. The ministry said the matter was raised at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday (Sept 18), where it is the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety and health of workers. “It is important for employers to carry out risk assessments, take appropriate measures and to determine the need to come to work to ensure risks can be minimised,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday (Sept 19). “Labour laws in Malaysia do not prohibit employers from specifying a place of em


By The Star
September 20, 2019

Current affairs

After 19 yrs, polio back in PH

The anti-vaxxer movement has done it again. The Philippines is in the midst of a polio epidemic 19 years after it was declared polio-free, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III announced on Thursday. Polio is a crippling and at times fatal infectious disease. (See In the Know.) Duque said a single confirmed case signaled an epidemic in a once polio-free country. He said a 3-year-old girl from Lanao del Sur was diagnosed with a vaccine-derived polio virus type 2. The Department of Health (DOH) is awaiting confirmation of a suspected case of acute flaccid paralysis (AFP). Rabindra Abeyasinghe, country representative of the World Health Organization (WHO), noted that the type 2 polio virus had not been in circulation for many years and was certified eliminated in the Philippines. Metro Manila, Davao “[S]o the vaccination program that the DOH and other co


By Philippine Daily Inquirer
September 20, 2019

Current affairs

Over 2 million students affected as haze reaches critical levels in Malaysia

Over 2,000 schools have been closed as a result. Close to two million students in over 2,000 schools will be affected by school closures in several states this week, following the worsening haze condition. A total of 2,459 schools in Selangor, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Kedah, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Sarawak are scheduled to be closed, following the Air Pollutant Index (API) exceeding 200 in these areas on Wednesday (Sept 18). The school closure affects a total of 1,732,842 students, said the Education Ministry in its latest statement on Wednesday night (Sept 18). The schools in Kedah, Perak, Negri Sembilan and Sarawak will only be closed on Thursday (Sept 19), whereas those in Selangor, Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Penang will be closed on Thursday (Sept 19) and Friday (Sept 20). Selangor has the most number of schools closed at 939, and also the largest number of students involv


By The Star
September 19, 2019

Current affairs

Challenges loom for Asia’s digital landscape

An overview of digital strategies across Asia in light of the first ever annual Digital Economy Report released by UNCTAD last week. Last week, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released its first ever annual Digital Economy Report (2019). It came at a time when countries across Asia have been grappling with a complex digital future. Digital technologies help cut costs, enable delivery of services without leakages, reduce opportunities for graft, promote ease of doing business, leverage an increasingly non-tactile world, grow economies, have the potential to create millions of new jobs and, it appears, even help fight fake news. On the flip side, there are concerns of the cost of the emerging digital economy in terms of loss of traditional employment sectors, eroding the right to privacy, abetting authoritarian state-control of citizens’ lives, causing a s


By Ishan Joshi
September 19, 2019

Current affairs

S.E. Asian manufacturing sees opportunity in U.S.-China row

By Shingo Sugime and Yoichiro Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents. Southeast Asian countries are intensifying their efforts to attract companies planning to move production bases outside China, as the United States and China have become entrenched in tit-for-tat sanctions and retaliatory tariffs. To attract the needed outside investment, they are offering tax incentives and other benefits. ‘Thailand Plus’ “We see the U.S.-China trade frictions as an opportunity to expand our efforts to attract foreign companies,” Thai Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 10. On that day, the Thai government adopted what it calls the “Thailand Plus” package of preferential measures for companies that relocate factories and other facilities from China. A corporate tax deduction of up to 50 p


By The Japan News
September 18, 2019

Current affairs

Pakistan and India face common threats, climate change is the biggest one

Collective action may just be what is needed to secure the lives and livelihoods of future generations. Climate change is no longer limited to books or scientific papers; it is a reality knocking on our doors. Longer, sweltering summers bringing in record-breaking heat to South Asia are just one example. The harshest of conditions have yet to come, and the entire region is woefully unprepared to meet the challenges. While they may seem isolated, increasing instances of extreme weather are harbingers of a major climate shift for South Asia. Unlike transnational challenges like security and trade, climate change cannot be deterred by conventional methods or unilateral initiatives. Instead, synchronised common action is the viable way forward for sustainable progress to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Let’s look at some of the common environmental challenges facing Pakistan


By Dawn
September 17, 2019