Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In Pakistan Landlords Torture Journalists



In countries subject to high levels of repression, prominent violators of media freedom remain the focus of rights groups. Meanwhile, smaller transgressors manage to dodge law enforcement authorities as well as other deterrents like public opinion, to continue their insidious practices. Pakistan is a good example.

Among the prominent abusers of media freedom in Pakistan are the country’s intelligence agencies, especially ISI. The New York-based Freedom House’s latest report – 2012 – speaks mainly about the restrictions the federal government places of media freedom both by enacting repressive legislation and targeting journalists critical of their work. “The physical safety of journalists remains a key concern. Intimidation by intelligence agencies and the security forces—including physical attacks and arbitrary, incommunicado detention—continues to take place.”

Other international media monitors too concentrate on the big fish. For instance, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) names “Mullah Mohammed Omar,” the “Baloch armed groups” and “intelligence services” among the predators of the media in Pakistan. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has documented the death of 10 journalists in Pakistan this year who have died in bomb blasts, murdered by criminals and targeted by government agencies.

But on Monday, August 19, RSF published a statement on two attacks – one on the offices of the Karachi-based Express Tribune and the other on journalist Zafar Wazir in South Waziristan in the Northwest Tribal areas. The killing of Wazir although outrageous is not the focus of this post, the attack on the Express is.

The English-language Express Tribune, the Urdu-language Express News and Express News TV. RSF quoting Express Tribune are located in the same buildings. RSF said two men on a motorbike had peppered the building with 22 shots injuring a two people, a woman and a security guard. RSF quoted Express News CEO Ijazul Haq as having “no clue” to who was responsible.

Writing in the Express Tribune, its editor Kamal Siddiqi enumerates the predators that target journalists in Pakistan. Among them he includes landlords. “At the Hyderabad Press Club, one hears daily the stories of how landlords torture journalists. Our fellow scribes are hung upside down, beaten blue, have their heads and eyebrows shaved as punishment. And yet they keep on writing.”

The landlords of Pakistan are not the ISI. They are mostly local notables living away from the city, with connections to local politicians and sufficient wealth to buy influence that keeps the local police from investigating the crime. What is more, they do not kill because that might compel the government to begin legal proceedings. On the contrary, they torture and humiliate journalists, who in the remote parts of the country lack the resources to fight them as their metropolitan counterparts do. Very little comes out about attacks on these district correspondents on whom Siddiqi bestows the accolade “bravest journalists” who “work in far off places, usually in isolation, and with little in terms of facilities or compensation. And yet they highlight day in and day out the injustices that surround them. The stories of police brutalities, of high handedness by landlords, of killings and beheadings by militants.”

We are yet unsure the causes of the attack on the Express Newspapers’ offices. But they serve to expose a source of muzzling the media in Pakistan that usually remains hidden.     

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