Freedom Network calls on Pakistan Army spokesperson Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa to look into enforced disappearance of Rasool Dawar, Geo News channel’s special correspondent in Peshawar, who was moved out of Peshawar after he was threatened to leave the city.
“Not once, but twice the journalist was taken away – once personnel in military uniform and second time by police handing him over to the same personnel – in last two months giving no reason or explanation why his presence at the interrogation cells was required,” Freedom Network [FN], Pakistan’s first media watchdog organization said Monday (May 11, 2015) in a press freedom alert.
“Taking journalist away in this fashion contradicts the army’s commitment to facilitating journalists in their professional works, especially when the country is seeking all-out media support for major push against terrorism,” the press freedom alert reminded the military spokesperson.
“We hope the twice disappearance of Rasool Dawar is not result of a personal vendetta because he is working for Geo News channel, which is blacklisted by the military after the family of TV anchor Hamid Mir accused the ISI chief of orchestrating the attack on him in April last year in Karachi.”
FN hopes the military will facilitate the journalists as much as possible in their professional works and bridge gaps to reach closer understanding of each other’s professional needs and challenges.
“The growing cases of harassment of journalists by military intelligence personnel warrant a platform where both sides have institutionalized approach to any issue arising out of any misunderstanding or serious matter concerning each other’s professional works,” FN proposed.
FN documented four cases of military intelligence personnel detaining three tribal journalists since the country launched the National Action Plan in last four and a half months to combat terrorism in the wake of Peshawar school attack leaving around 150 children killed on December 16, 2014. These detained journalists include Umar Daraz (North Waziristan), Noor Behram (North Waziristan), Nasruminallah (North Waziristan) and Sudhir Ahmed Afridi (Khyber).
The press freedom alert also urged Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police chief Nasir Durrani to order inquiry into Gulbahar police station’s head detaining the journalist without due course of law and handing him over to the intelligence personnel.
FN also demanded of the KP Police chief a safe return to Rasool Dawar to Peshawar to meet his family.
Detailing ordeal he faced on both occasions, Rasool Dawar wrote May 4, 2014, email message to his employer – Geo News channel – and c-ced to many others, including international media watchdog organizations Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Border, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations, governor and chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“I have been picked up/arrested in Peshawar on two separate occasions for unknown reasons by security forces and kept me in custody under extremely torturous conditions. I still feel frightened and am not comfortable at all to continue my professional duties at my work-stations in a free manner,” Rasool Dawar, who comes from North Waziristan, said in the email message.
The second time he was arrested by Gulbahar Police Station without any due course of law was on April 14, 2015, handing him over to the military intelligence personnel in Peshawar. Two months back, the journalist was picked up from his office by intelligence personnel, with soldiers in military uniform surrounding Geo News channel on February 20, 2015.
Giving details of the first time disappearance, Rasool Dawar said: “The first incident happened in the afternoon of February 20 (2015). Some people dressed in the army uniform caught me right in front of my office at Khyber Super Market, Peshawar Cantt, and put me in an army vehicle and drove towards an office in the garrison. I was not allowed to use my phone and all my belongings were taken from me. At the office I was blind-folded and was made to stand near a wall.
“Some officials came and interrogated me for a long time. They were asking questions about my family, job, contacts, organization, and some senior journalists affiliated with my organization etc. After four long hours I was shifted to another office. I was still blind-folded. There I was informed that I had been released and tea was offered to me. After two hours in this office, my mobile phones and other stuff were returned to me. Then I was put in a car and dropped off on Warsak Road away from my office as well as home, quiet late in the night.”
He went on to add: “A few days after this incident, the officer who had interrogated me called me and asked me to come near Khalid Bin Walid Park in the cantonment area, where he made a brief chit-chat with me and allowed to go.”
“Their threatening attitude and ‘advice’ to leave the town’ for some times, prompted me to shift to Islamabad for about a week,” Rasool Dawar stated in his letter. “Now am gravely concerned about my safety as it’s still uncertain when all this is going to end. The threat is not yet over. This is for the first time in my nine-year journalistic career that I have experienced such frightening situation in which I was even physically harassed.”
He is declined to give any reason for his enforced disappearance twice in two months. “I asked them, (intelligence personnel) why I am picked in so rude manner. They say; ‘We don’t know. It may be a case of misunderstanding.’
“Two months later, on April 14 (2015), I was at the traffic headquarters adjacent to Gulbahar police station along with a senior colleague, Ansar Abbas, in connection with driving license. A police cop approached me and asked me to meet the station head officer of Gulbahar police station. As I reached the officer’s office he arrested me and put me in lock-up in the basement of the police station.
“The stinking smell of the room that was full with filth and dirt, I can’t forget even now.
After two hours at the police station, the SHO took me in his car towards the Cantt. I was blind-folded and hand-cuffed. After a drive of nearly 20 minutes I was dropped at an office where they unfolded my eyes, I found myself in the same office where I had been brought two months back. This time, the army officials were putting all the blame on police for arresting me. They claimed that they had nothing to do with my arrest, but the police were not ready to leave me. They advised me not to meet the police unless they tell me so. They also advised me to leave the town for some time and I shifted to Islamabad for five days.
“When I went back to Peshawar after spending five days in Islamabad, the same officials called my office on our official phone number and asked about my whereabouts. Again, I had no option but to leave Peshawar for Islamabad,” the young journalist who was covering tribal areas for Geo News, which is under immense pressure from the military establishment since it aired allegations of family of anchor Hamid Mir that the military intelligence ISI chief masterminded the attack on the journalist on April 19, 2014, narrated the whole story.