10 September 2021
Pakistan Reader# 125, 28 July 2020
Matiullah Jan and Anwar Jan are not the only cases in which the journalists in Pakistan have been targeted. According to Reporters without Borders’ 2020 report, Pakistan ranks 145 out of the total 180 countriesD. Suba Chandran & Abigail Miriam Fernandez
In the News
During the second part of July, two incidents took place – in Islamabad on 21 July, and two days later on 23 July in Naharkot in Balochistan. The first one was related to a journalist – Matiullah Jan, who was abducted by men (presumed to be the intelligence agencies); however, thanks to CCTV footage going viral immediately after the abduction, and a superfast Islamabad High Court coming down heavily on the abduction, Jan was released the same day.
The second was related to Anwar Jan (not in any way related to the other Jan who got kidnapped miles away in the national capital), who like Matiullah Jan was also a freelance journalist. Anwar Jan was working to expose corruption involving a provincial minister of Balochistan (Food and Population Welfare) Rehman Khan Khetiran. Unlike Matiullah's case, there was no CCTV to capture his abduction, leading to his release with the High Court intervening. Anwar Jan was killed in cold blood reportedly by Rehman Khan's two bodyguards. (Saleem Shahid, "Balochistan minister booked over social media activist's murder," Dawn, 27 July 2020)
Matiullah Jan was lucky to survive the day and tell the story; Anwar Jan is not. The cases of the two Jans are too different, in terms of who kidnapped them and for what reasons. However, there is one common thread running through from Islamabad to Quetta, perhaps via Karachi and Peshawar – targeting of the journalists by State, non-State and other actors linked with the State directly or indirectly, like the minister in the case of Anwar Jan.
Matiullah Jan and Anwar Jan are not the only cases in which the journalists in Pakistan have been targeted. According to Reporters without Borders' 2020 report, Pakistan ranks 145 out of the total 180 countries. In 2019 alone, four journalists and a blogger were killed, according to the RSF. ("Pakistan: Under the military establishment's thumb," Reporters without borders)
Issues at large
The RSF's report on Pakistan titled "Under the military establishment's thumb" says, "Pakistani media, which has a long tradition of being very lively, has become a priority target for the country's "deep state," a euphemism for the constant manoeuvring by the military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the main military intelligence agency, to subjugate the civilian executive. The influence of this military "establishment," which cannot stand independent journalism, has increased dramatically since Imran Khan became prime minister in July 2018."
The problem is just not the Deep State alone. The non-State actors – from the militant groups to extreme Right, groups have been targeting seniors journalists for their liberal views and anti-extremists writings/postings. If Matiullah Jan represents one end of the spectrum, journalists like Raza Rumi represent the other end, for getting targeted by the right-wing. Further, the RSF pointed out in its 2020 report, "as has been the case for at least a decade, there was total impunity for crimes of violence against journalists."
First, the issue is not limited to Matiullah and Anwar Jan. The list is long
During the last decade, the journalists have been regularly targeted by the State and non-State actors. While some cases get known, in others the victims disappear from the earth, or seek exile, or simply fade away. Consider the following cases.
On 21 July 2020, Matiullah Jan was kidnapped in broad daylight by nearly half a dozen plainclothes and uniformed men when he arrived at a school in the federal capital to drop his wife. Fortunately for Jan, 12 hours after his abduction, he was released thanks to the CCTV coverage. (Shakeel Qarar, AFP, Sanaullah Khan, "Journalist Matiullah Jan released 12 hours after being abducted from Islamabad," Dawn, 22 July 2020) ("'Extremely disturbing, highly condemnable': Rights groups, journalists react to Matiullah Jan's abduction," Dawn, 21 July 2020). It is reported that Jan is a critic of the Establishment. ("Journalist's abduction," Dawn, 23 July 2020)
Anwar Jan Khetiran
On 23 July 2020, Anwar Jan Khetiran, a social media activist, was murdered in Barkhan district, Balochistan while he was on his way home. Mr Khetiran's brother had lodged a complaint after which the Levies Force registered a case against provincial Minister for Food and Population Welfare Sardar Abdul Rehman Khan Khetiran and his "two guards" over the murder. According to the complaint lodged by his brother, Anwar has been writing on social media platforms about the problems in his area and on the atrocities and alleged corruption of the minister. However, there remain no answers to who was behind his murder. (Saleem Shahid, "Balochistan minister booked over social media activist's murder," Dawn, 27 July 2020)
On 10 January 2018, Taha Siddiqui a Pakistani journalist survived abduction and a possible assassination attempt when 10-12 armed men stopped his taxi in the middle of a highway in Islamabad beat him up and threatened to shoot him. Siddiqui managed to escape and fled to Paris. (Shakeel Qarar, "Journalist Taha Siddiqui beaten by '10-12 armed men', escapes 'attempted abduction'," Dawn, 10 January 2018) (Taha Siddiqui, "I'm a journalist who fled Pakistan, but I no longer feel safe in exile," The Washington Post, The Washington Post, 8 January 2019)
An outspoken critic of human rights violations and abuse of power by the State, Siddiqui has been a vocal critic of Pakistan's military, and at many instances complained of being harassed by the country's security service. Siddiqui stated that he suspected the state authorities of being behind the attempt. ("Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui escapes," Committee to Protect Journalist, 10 January 2018)
On 19 April 2014, Hamid Mir, a senior reporter, and Geo TV's senior anchor-person was attacked by four gunmen riding on motorbikes who started firing at the car near Karsaz, Karachi. He received three bullets in the lower parts of his body. ("Journalist Hamid Mir injured in gun attack in Karachi," Dawn, 21 March 2016) Mir held the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) responsible, blaming the 'ISI within ISI' for orchestrating the attack. Further, he claimed that the intelligence agency was not pleased with his criticism aimed at the ISI in different Capital Talk shows. ("Hamid Mir blames 'ISI within ISI' for attack," Dawn, 28 April 2014) Although the motive for the shooting was unclear, it was seen to be linked to Mir's criticism of Pakistani policy in Balochistan province where he was critical of the disappearances of Baloch political activists, which became a frequent topic of discussion on his TV programs. (Bob Dietz, "More threats against Pakistan's Hamid Mir" Committee to Protect Journalist, 17 April 2014)
He was attacked earlier as well in November 2012; however, he escaped the assassination attempt when a bomb planted under his car in Islamabad. Then, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had accepted responsibility for the attempt and stating that it was targeting the journalist due to his "secular agenda." Mir has in the past criticised the Taliban and the armed forces in Pakistan, and media campaign group Reporters Without Borders. ("Journalist Hamid Mir injured in gun attack in Karachi," Dawn, 21 March 2016) (Zarrar Khuhro, "Attack on Hamid Mir: You have the right to remain silent," Dawn, 19 April 2014)
On 28 March 2014, Raza Rumi, a senior journalist, analyst and a political commentator was attacked by unidentified armed men in Lahore. Though Rumi survived, his driver was killed, and his guard was injured. ("Express News anchor Raza Rumi targeted in gun attack," The Express Tribune, 28 March 2014) After the attack, Rumi decided to voluntarily exile himself from the country and moved to the US. (Raza Rumi, "Exile for me and others," The News International, 25 October 2015)
It was reported Rumi was attacked by a group of assailants who were members of the Taliban-affiliate Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for his anti-LeJ views. Rumi often received threats that a fatwa would soon be issued calling for his death. Further, he also spoke about problems in Pakistan, including its laws that discriminate against religious minorities. (Bob Dietz, "A year after Raza Rumi attack, little change for Pakistan's beleaguered press," Committee to Protect Journalist, 27 March 2015)
On 30 April 2020, Sajid Hussain the editor-in-chief of Balochistan Times who was missing since early March was found dead in Sweden. The Swedish police informed that they had discovered his body from a river in Uppsala. Hussain was forced to flee Pakistan in 2012 after he wrote about "forced disappearances" and exposed a drug kingpin in the country's Balochistan region. He self-imposed exile after he sensed that he was being followed and lived in Oman, UAE and Uganda before finally moving to Sweden. (Xari Jalil, "Baloch journalist goes missing in Sweden," Dawn, 19 April 2014)
Hussain extensively wrote on the suffering of the Baloch people for which he was criticised as the authorities did not like his reporting of Balochistan's forbidden stories. ("Sajid Hussain found dead," Balochistan Times, 1 May 2020) It is still not known who was behind his murder, with his family stating "We don't know whom we are fighting." ("Exiled Pakistani journalist Sajid Hussain Baloch goes missing in Sweden," Committee to Protect Journalist, 3 March 2020)
On 31 May 2011, Saleem Shahzad who worked for an Italian news agency and a Hong Kong-registered news site was found dead about 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad. He was tortured before his death, as there were several signs of torture on his body and face. The journalist had vanished after leaving his home in Islamabad to appear on a television talk show just two days after he wrote an article about alleged links between Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy. Previously, in 2016 he was kidnapped by the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, accused of being a spy but was set free after seven days. (AFP, "Pakistani journalist was tortured to death: police," Dawn, 1 June 2011)
Shahzad wrote about the numerous militant networks operating in Pakistan and warned human rights campaigners before his disappearance that he had been threatened by the Inter-Services Intelligence. Speculation that the ISI was linked to the murder of Shahzad further built pressure on the agency who at that time was already facing international suspicions on the ground that the agency sheltered Osama bin Laden in an army town before he was killed by American commandos. (Bob Dietz, "Justice for Saleem Shahzad? We've seen this before" Committee to Protect Journalist, 3 June 2011) In a rare media statement the ISI, however, deny that it was behind the abduction and killing of the journalist. (AP, "ISI denies role in Saleem Shahzad killing," Dawn, 2 June 2011)
In 2002, Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter was beheaded on camera with the recording being released to the world just after the 9/11 attacks. Pearl had been reporting on the connections between Pakistani religious militants and the so-called shoe bomber Richard Reid when he went missing in January 2002 and further investigated jihadi terrorism. Within weeks of his execution, Pakistani authorities arrested three accomplices and the chief suspect. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was the mastermind of the kidnapping and execution. The British- born terrorist was awarded a death sentence. However, earlier this year the Sindh High Court overturned the death sentence awarded to him but upheld the kidnapping charge. (Reuters, "Sindh govt re-arrests four men acquitted in Daniel Pearl murder case," Dawn, 4 April 2020) Further, Saeed had told the police that he plotted to seize Pearl because he wanted to strike at the United States and embarrass Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. (Abi Wright, "Daniel Pearl: An Open Case," Committee to Protect Journalist) Further, many have alleged that he is being protected by the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).
For Pearl's family, patience is running thin. However, they are determined to seek justice for their son. According to Pearl's wife, journalists investigating militant groups and their connections to terrorist activities were not welcome. (Ruth Pearl, Judea Pearl, "Why we are seeking justice for our son, Daniel Pearl," Dawn, 7 May 2020)
Second, the impunity. The attackers getaway. All the time.
All the above case studies would underline what happened to the attackers during the last decade. While the journalists who have been targeted either lost their lives, or exiled and simply disappeared, the attackers have neither been identified nor there has been a serious investigation on the attacks. (I.A. Rehman, "Media's shrinking space," Dawn, 21 November 2019) (Ingrid Johansson, Vibeke Jensen, "Safety of journalists," Dawn, 2 November 2016) (Huma Yusuf, "Targeting journalists," Dawn, 1 September 2014)
The legal case of the high-profile Daniel Pearl case would underline what happens with the investigation process, and the subsequent legal outcome. Unless the investigation process is strong and identifies the culprits, the judiciary, which has been increasingly conscious of the issue, cannot do much. (Asif Chaudhry, "Report highlights lacunae in police investigation," Dawn, 5 January 2019)
As could be seen in the latest case relating to Matiullah's case, the judiciary can ask harsh questions. (Tahir Naseer, Haseeb Bhatti, "Supreme Court takes notice of Matiullah Jan's abduction, demands police report in 2 weeks," Dawn, 23 July 2020) But, it cannot investigate and prosecute on behalf of the State. This is where the attackers escape without any hassle.
The print media in Pakistan has been writing on this culture of impunity in its editorials and analyses. But in vain. ("Violence against journalists," Dawn, 20 July 2015, "Violence against journalists," Dawn, 2 November, 2015, "Journalists' abductions," Dawn, 8 January 2018, "'Fit for trial'," Dawn, 20 February 2020)
Third, there is exposure today. But it is not sufficient enough to deter those who target the media
Undoubtedly, there is a high level of awareness at the national and international levels on the media freedom within Pakistan.
The Reporters without Borders (RSF) has ranked Pakistan 145th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. According to the RSF, "there have been many cases of brazen censorship in which the military have used a number of methods for exercising pressure. Distribution of newspapers, especially the leading daily Dawn, has been interrupted. Media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising. The signals of TV channels that gave airtime to opposition representatives have been jammed. Journalists who dared to broach subjects deemed off limits by the military have been subjected to ISI-orchestrated harassment campaigns. After reining in the traditional media, the Establishment has set about purging the Internet and social media of content not to its liking. To that end, the government is trying to step up online "regulation," by which it clearly means censorship." ("Pakistan: Under the military establishment's thumb," Reporters without borders)
Internally, the annual reports published by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also looks at the issue. The 2019 report notes that restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression continued to be the most challenged fundamental Right in the country during the year. The situation within Pakistan grew worse with thousands of journalists, photographers and other media persons losing their jobs and several newspapers and magazines were shut down largely due to the financial squeeze imposed by withdrawing the government advertisements or the previous dues withheld or their distribution was disrupted.
The report also noted that the ranking of internet freedom in Pakistan also declined further in 2019. This decline is said to be attributed to a problematic cybercrime law, internet shutdowns, and cyber-attacks against political dissenters justified on the grounds of national security. ("State of Human Rights in 2019," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 30 April 2020) ("State of Human Rights in 2018," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 30 April 2020) ("State of Human Rights in 2017," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 30 April 2020)
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in its South Asia Press Freedom Report – States of Control: COVID, Cuts and Impunity, states that the media in Pakistan during the year 2019 reeled under an unrelenting clampdown and enduring repression. The report adds that journalists remain vulnerable are frequently targeted, harassed and even murdered. Further, it highlights that although the media is responsible for creating public awareness on national and international issues, no effective laws are governing the security and safety of journalists in Pakistan. ("South Asia Press Freedom Report – States of Control: Covid, Cuts and Impunity," The International Federation of Journalists, 3 May 2020)
Fourth, the situation is worsening now. Irrespective of being under a democratic government.
From editorials in local newspapers within Pakistan to international reports such as the RSF and IFJ points out to an important issue – the status of media freedom under democratic governments. According to IFJ, measures taken by the government seem to be aimed at restricting the minuscule free media, with many coming to believe that the recent censorship, intimidation and arm twisting of journalists and media have become worse than the decade under the dictatorial regime of General Zia-ul Haq in 1977. ("South Asia Press Freedom Report – States of Control: Covid, Cuts and Impunity," The International Federation of Journalists, 3 May 2020)
According to the RSF, the Establishment, "which cannot stand independent journalism, has increased dramatically since Imran Khan became prime minister in July 2018. There have been many cases of brazen censorship in which the military has used a number of methods for exercising pressure."
To conclude, for the journalists in Pakistan, it is a triple whammy. By the State, Deep State and the Non-State.