FoE In Pakistan: 2017 Gets Off To An Ominous Start

Media Analysis January 2017: murder, arrests and fear  

Killings, Attacks and Threats against Journalists

In the context of freedom of expression the year 2017 got off to an ominous start. In January 2017, a journalist was murdered, five bloggers and online information practitioners were kidnapped, three journalists were arrested, five journalists sustained attacks and injuries, two journalists received verbal threats, two journalists were temporarily banned from working, two journalists were fined and a police case registered against three journalists and the chairman of the private electronic media regulator.

According to documentation of these cases by the Pakistan Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network and the media, of the total of eight categories of attacks and harassment occurring in January 2017, a total of 24 journalists and other information practitioners and the chairman of the independent broadcast media regulator sector were affected. These included four cases in Sindh province, two cases each in Balochistan and Punjab provinces as well as Islamabad and one case in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

MURDER: The most serious case this month involved an attack on January 14, 2017 in Kalat town in Balochistan by unknown assailants on Mohammad Jan, a reporter for local newspaper Tawar. He was on his way to work when he was shot dead. Police has not been able to ascertain either the motive behind the murder or the identity of the attackers.

ABDUCTIONS: Five online information practitioners, bloggers and rights activists – Salman Haider, Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas – were abducted from Islamabad, Lahore and Faisalabad in early January 2017. All, except Abbas, returned home by the end of the month but have refused to talk about their ordeals. The identities of those behind the kidnapping have not been ascertained but similarities in their abduction patters and their post-return behaviors indicate possible involvement of a single source. There were allegations that the state security apparatus was behind the abductions but these were not substantiated. The Ministry of Interior also refused to confirm or deny who could have been involved. After their return, the four bloggers have refused to file charges against anyone. Widespread reports in electronic and social media indicated their secular activism and criticism of security agencies and religion were likely reasons behind their vengeful abductions.

ARRESTS: In this month, three journalists were arrested.

In the first case, on the morning of January 5, 2017 Samaa TV reporter Imdad Phulpoto was arrested in Khairpur in Sindh by the police. The arrest was made in a criminal case filed against his brother. Phulpoto was released the same day after several hours of detention without any charges.

In the second case, on January 20, 2017, two journalists were arrested by the police and sent to Central Prison Sukkur in Sindh based on a court decision against them issued on January 9, 2017. The journalists included Akhlaq Jokhio and Qurban Gadehi. Both work for Sindhi-language weekly print magazine Saahti Awaz and are based in Naushero Feroze town. Both have been sentenced to jail terms of five years and fine of Rs50,000 each. They were convicted for their journalism work dating back to 2015 about the alleged misappropriation of a graveyard by property developer Shahid Akram, also a former local union council chairman, for personal benefit. Jokhio and Gadehi have appealed their convictions in Sindh High Court.

ATTACKS & INJURIES: In the same month, five journalists sustained attacks and injuries.

In the first case, Ghulam Asghar, a correspondent for Sach TV in Layyah in Punjab, was shot in the spinal cord on January 5, 2017. He required extensive medical treatment. Police registered a case and arrested at least one suspect.

In the second case, Zubair Dhillon, a Neo TV reporter based in Faisalabad in Punjab, was on January 19, 2017 beaten up by policemen officials on Jan 19 while on official duty for the coverage of a public rally by politician Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

In the third case, Shoaib Tareen, a reporter for Sach TV in Dadu in Sindh was attacked on January 24, 2017, and injured by unknown persons. Police are investigating the case.

In the fourth case, Sajid Kukikhel, correspondent for Mashriq newspaper in Khyber Agency of FATA and former president of Jamrud Press Club, and Amir Zada, the correspondent for Express newspaper in Khyber Agency of FATA, were on January 27, 2017 beaten and harassed by the Khasadar Police Force in Bara subdivision while they were covering a political event. Police have refused to register a case against their attackers.

VERBAL THREATS: In this month, two journalists received verbal threats.

In the first case, Zaman Mehsud, a journalist from South Waziristan in FATA based in Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a correspondent for Ummat newspaper, says that on January 21, 2017 he received on his phone a call from an unidentified person who threatened him of dire consequences for his reporting.

In the second case, Fareedullah Kakar, a reporter for Waqt TV based in Harnai in Balochistan, on January 31, 2017, received threats on the phone from unknown persons for investigating the death of a boy at a local clinic and warned against reporting the death.

BANNED: In this month, two journalists were temporarily banned from working. The administration of state-managed Pakistan Television (PTV) in Islamabad, restrained current affairs anchorpersons Ms Tanzila Mazhar and Ms Yashfeen Jamal from working until an investigation into a case of sexual harassment they had filed against a senior male colleague.

FINED: In this month two journalists were fined Rs50,000 each by a court in a defamation case against them filed by a property dealer. On January 9, 2017 a local court convicted Akhlaq Jokhio and Qurban Gadehi who both work for Sindhi-language weekly print magazine Saahti Awaz based in Naushero Feroze town in Sindh. Both were also sentenced to jail terms of five years and fine of Rs50,000 each. Both have appealed their convictions in Sindh High Court.

LEGAL CASE: On January 28, 2017, complying with an order issued by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi in Sindh, the police registered a case against Mir Shakilur Rehman, the owner of Pakistan’s largest media group, the Jang Group, hosts of Geo TV current affairs talkshow Apas Ki Baat, Najam Sethi and Muneeb Farooq, and Chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Absar Alam for “hatching conspiracy by hurling baseless allegations against the military, the government and the judiciary.” The complaint was filed by a private citizen Gul Khan.

Threats, Attacks & Harassment against Media Institutions

In the month of January 2017, no case of a physical attack on media offices were documented by the Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network. However, a police case was filed against the heads of Jang Group and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for alleged defamation of the military and the judiciary. There were no known cases of written or verbal threats, formal ban or enforced censorship on a media house this month. No information was available on a media house being served with a legal notice from either official quarters or from private parties.

Threats, Attacks & Harassment against Various Types of Media

In the month of January 2017, a total of eight categories of attacks and threats against a total of 24 practitioners of various types of media were documented by the Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network and the media.

These included 11 cases of violations against print media, 10 against television media, five against online information practitioners and one case against the private broadcast media regulator. No cases were documented against radio media or a freelance journalist.

Of the 11 cases against print media practitioners, three related to police cases against them, two cases each related to fines, physical assaults and injuries, and arrests while one each related to verbal threats and murder.

Of the 10 cases against TV media practitioners, three related to police cases against them, three cases related to physical assaults and injuries, two related to bans, one related to verbal threats and one related to an arrest.

Of the five cases against online information practitioners all five cases related to abductions.

Threat Actors Attacking and Harassing Journalists and Media

During January 2017, the various reported or suspected threat actors attacking, threatening or harming media practitioners included courts, which convicted two journalists and fined them, police which arrested two journalists and jailed them, law enforcement agencies which beat up two journalists, media managers which temporarily banned two journalists from working, and other unidentified actors which abducted five journalists and attacked and injured another three journalists.

The information collected here is based on reporting by victims or their families and does not necessarily imply it is verified, unless specified. The information filed here is in good faith and aimed at analyzing trends for the sole purpose of informing strategies to reduce threats against media and its practitioners.

Advocacy on Journalists’ Safety by Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network

In January 2017, the Pakistan Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network spent a busy month. Some of the key advocacy activities on journalists’ safety in this period included the following:

National Press Club, Islamabad, Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager attended a press conference on missing bloggers and met with the family of one of them to offer assistance.
  • Safety Hub Manager along with Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists Secretary Shakeel Ahmad pursued the case of reported abduction of missing crime reporter for Khabrain newspaper Mazhar Shaikh with his family, which registered a case with Islamabad Police.
  • Safety Hub Manager consulted senior colleagues to consider a strategy to raise the issue of a ban imposed by Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on live coverage or mobile-phone coverage of National Assembly proceedings.

Dera Ismail Khan Press Club Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager met Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Director Information Amir Husain Shah at his office in Peshawar and discussed issues relating to safety of journalists in the province in general and in D I Khan district in particular. Shah said the provincial government is interested in legislation on the issue of journalists’ safety. He also informed that the government has established a medical aid fund for assistance of journalists of the province.
  • Safety Hub Manager attended an MoU signing ceremony between Media and Security Research Organisation (Masro) and Gomal University for training of journalists in Dera Ismail Khan, and spoke about challenges facing journalists in the region.

Karachi Press Club Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager visited press clubs in Thatta, Badin, Mithi, Mirpurkhas, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Sukkur and Shikarpur in Sindh province to deliver IEC [information, education and communication] materials on the theme of safety of journalists and to sensitize their members on security and safe journalism.
  • Safety Hub Manager delivered training and IEC materials on journalists’ safety for the staff Dawn News TV in Karachi.
  • Safety Hub Manager conducted for the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) an orientation on physical and digital security of journalists and safety protocols for more than 30 editors of different newspapers.

Quetta Press Club Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager met with the family of and other stakeholders on seeking justice for the murder of Mohammad Jan, a journalist based in Kalat, by unidentified attackers.

Peshawar Press Club Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager consulted with Sajid Kukikhel, ex-president of Jamrud Press Club and correspondent of Mashriq newspaper in Khyber Agency, and Amir Zada, the correspondent of Express newspaper in Khyber Agency, after they were beaten up and harassed by local tribal police while on duty.
  • Safety Hub Manager visited Charsadda and Mardan press clubs for the distribution of IEC materials for sensitizing journalists on safety issues.

Lahore Press Club Safety Hub

  • Safety Hub Manager pursued the cases of two journalists assaulted and injured in Punjab, including Zubair Sajid Dhillon, a reporter for Neo TV in Faisalabad and Ghulam Rasool Asghar, a correspondent for Sach TV in Chowk Azam.
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