By Zia Ur Rehman

January 10, 2014

On January 1, Shan Dahar, a reporter working with Abb Tak TV channel, was shot dead in Larkana. As 2014 begins, journalists in Pakistan are under serious threat from state security agencies, some political parties, Taliban militants, and separatist groups, watchdogs say.

Eleven journalists were killed in 2013, according to a report released by the Media Monitoring Cell of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors. Five of them were killed while covering bombings, and six others became victims of targeted killings, the report says.

Workers of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf beat up Karachi Press Club joint secretary Shams Kerio in the club premises on December 17

Another report released by South Asia Media Commission puts Pakistan on top of its list with 10 assassinations in 2013, followed by eight in India, three in Afghanistan and one in Bangladesh. In Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom index, Pakistan is ranked 159th, out of 179 countries.

The number of journalists killed in direct, targeted attacks decreased slightly in 2013, but the threats remain the same as they have in past years, said Bob Dietz, Asia program director of Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based media watchdog body. “Threats come from many different sides – militant groups, army and intelligence actors operating with and without central command approval, corrupt politicians, and allied business interests,” Dietz said.

“They might be critical of the Pakistani military, for example, reporting on indiscriminate bombings in populated parts of the tribal areas, or the Taliban and other armed groups may accuse them of spying or supporting their enemies,” said Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International. Journalists also face risks from criminal gangs or for reporting on abuses against women due to family disputes or following jirga decisions, he said.

Background interviews with journalists and media rights campaigners suggest that journalists belonging to the Federally Tribal Administrated Area (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face a higher risk. In many cases, reporters are being observed and chased. At least three journalists – Aslam Durrani of Peshawar, Mumtaz Malik of North Waziristan, and Ayub Khattak of Karak  –  have been killed in northwest Pakistan possibly because of their reporting in the last 12 months, Qadri said. Others have been kidnapped, assaulted and faced other kinds of abuse.

“Sometimes we have to make compromises, because a reporter’s life is more important than the report”

“Reporting from FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is like a two-edged sword for our correspondents,” said Daud Khattak, editor of Prague-based Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Pashto Mashaal Radio, a popular station in the northwest. “Sometimes we have to compromise on quality because a reporter’s life is more important than the report,” Khattak said. He said the abuses include beating, kidnapping, anonymous phone calls, death threats and even armed attacks.

A large number of journalists working in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are either under-paid or not paid, and are simply given a press card ensuring an honorary status.

“We are the real sources of news and information and have influence around the world, but if we annoy either side, we may be killed,” said Zaman Mehsud, secretary general of the South Waziristan chapter of the Tribal Union of Journalists.

In Balochistan, several local press clubs had to shut down because of the security threats in 2013. A journalist working in Gwadar, requesting anonymity for security reasons, said he and his colleagues had been threatened by various armed groups in the area. “We are receiving threats on using words such as martyred or killed and giving no or insufficient coverage. The people sitting on the desk in Karachi or Islamabad do not understand the on-ground situation,” he said.

“Intelligence agencies, Baloch nationalists, underground death squads, and sectarian groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have reportedly threatened journalists, while the Balochistan High Court has also been consistently controlling the media,” said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of the news website Baloch Hal.

Amjad Hussain, a journalist belonging from Quetta, was compelled to leave the country and get asylum in Australia. “I had multiple threats to my life: being a Hazara, being a Shia and being a journalist,” said Hussain. He said journalists are dictated by both the military and the militant groups.

The state of journalism in Karachi is not very different from that in the tribal areas and Balochistan.  “There is chaotic situation in Karachi and that also affects journalists,” said Amir Latif, secretary general of the Karachi Press Club.

No one has been prosecuted for killing a journalist in Karachi since the case of Daniel Pearl in 2002

In Karachi, the threats are of different types and are delivered in different ways. No one has been prosecuted for killing a journalist since the case of Daniel Pearl in 2002. All the witnesses and lawyers of the murder of journalist Wali Khan Babar have been murdered and case of his murder has been shifted from Karachi to Kundh Kot on the request of the Sindh government because of security reasons. Pakistan is one of five countries identified by the United Nations to be a model for others in addressing impunity issues, Dietz said. “Maybe the most disappointing development is that, so far, the Nawaz Sharif government has not taken any significant steps to address the level of threat directed at journalists or the impunity with which the attacks take place.”

Journalist groups demand that reporters all over the country need to be trained for working in conflict zones and situations. “TV channels and newspapers do not train their reporters for reporting from conflict areas or in hostile environments, and therefore they are not able to take precautions while performing their duties,” Latif said.

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