Wed, Jun 21, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Pakistani journalists under fire from all sides

AP, HARIPUR, Pakistan

Mother of Pakistani journalist Bakhsheesh Elahi, right, cries on Tuesday last week while talking about her son, with her newborn granddaughter in Haripur, Pakistan.

PHOTO: AP

Bakhsheesh Elahi was waiting for the morning bus when a lone gunman on a motorcycle pulled up beside him and shot him dead.

Rana Tanveer had just taken his family to safety after militants spray-painted death threats on his door, when a car smashed into his motorcycle and sped away.

Taha Siddiqui answered his telephone to hear a menacing voice from a government agency telling him he needed to come in for questioning, without saying why.

The three men are journalists in Pakistan, considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for this profession.

However, even by Pakistan’s standards, things have gotten worse, according to journalists, Pakistani and international human rights activists and advocacy groups.

In addition to attacks from militants or criminals, Pakistani journalists are also facing threats from government agencies or the military itself.

“Journalists are not threatened from one side alone, they are threatened by drug mafia, they are threatened by political gangs. They are also threatened by religious extremists,” said Asma Jehangir, a human rights lawyer and the director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “They are threatened by the military. They are also threatened by people who are deeply [involved] in corruption, but when it comes to the extremist elements, governments are very reluctant to move because they themselves are afraid of them.”

Elahi, a determined investigative reporter in northwestern Pakistan’s Haripur, is just the latest example. The father of five, including a daughter born just 20 days earlier, was killed on Sunday last week while waiting for a bus a few hundred meters from his home.

Local journalists turned Elahi’s funeral into a protest, carrying his body through the streets and stopping traffic to demand that the killers be brought to justice, Haripur Press Club president Zakir Hussain Tandi said.

However, impunity and a lack of prosecution has characterized many of the attacks on journalists in Pakistan.

Elahi, who was bureau chief of an Urdu language newspaper and sister television station, was the fourth journalist killed in the Haripur district in the past three years. All but one of the murders has gone unsolved.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said 60 journalists and 10 media workers have been killed in Pakistan since 1992.

Elahi’s Facebook page featured his relentless reporting against political corruption. One of the country’s largest television news channels to feature one of his stories.

“We think his death is probably related to journalism,” Tandi said. “Lots of people didn’t like his investigations, the drug mafia, corrupt politicians, car thieves. He wrote about them all.”

Pakistani journalists and social media activists have been detained, often by intelligence agencies, tortured according to some who were released, and threatened with blasphemy charges, which carry the death penalty and routinely incite mobs of radical extremists to violence.

Last week, a social media activist was sentenced to death for allegedly posting an item deemed insulting to Islam.

That sentence “sends a threatening message to all ... causing fear and leading to self-censorship,”, CPJ Asia director Steven Butler said in an e-mail. “It’s clear that authorities — including investigative authorities, prosecutors and the military — are keeping a close eye on journalists and ready to act when red lines are crossed.”

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