Mass Media Threats in Balochistan
FN Threat Data Analysis – October-November 2017
Twenty-one journalists, including investigative reporter, cameramen and photojournalists, were attacked and injured, two tribal journalists were taken away, six were detained, one is booked under kidnapping charges, hundreds of journalists face mass threat and almost a dozen press clubs were closed down in Balochistan after banned Baloch insurgent groups threatened the media and its practioners. Pakistan Press Club Safety Hub Network, managed by Freedom Network, documented these violations during October-November 2017.
Under Pakistan Press Club Safety Hub Network programme, Freedom Network is assisting journalists at risks in four different categories in partnership with the country’s five biggest press clubs in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad and Peshawar.
HARASSMENT/ATTACKS/ASSAULTS/INJURIES: The most horrendous case of attack on journalist was attempt on life of investigative journalist Ahmed Noorani, working for The News International in Islamabad bureau. Young men riding motorcycles in broad daylight on October 27 in Islamabad attacked Ahmed leaving him with 10 stitches in his head. Police made no arrests yet despite sketches of suspected attackers are made public.
Twenty-one journalists – four in October and seventeen in November – were attacked and injured in line of duty. Most attacks and injuries happened during single day when activists of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and its backer Sunni Tehreek confronted law-enforcing agencies in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi on November 25. These journalists even received rubber bullets police personnel fired at the activists.
The following cameramen, photojournalists and reporters were injured in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi on November 25 respectively: Qamar-ul-Munawar, reporter of Dunya TV, Sadam Mangat, reporter of Channel 24, Tanveer Shahzad, Dawn newspaper photojournalist, Syed Yasin Hashmi, reporter of Business Plus TV, Pervaiz Asi, Metro Watch photojournalist, Zulfiqar Zulfi and Sultan Shah, Abbtak TV cameramen, Sharaz Gardezi, Geo News cameraman, Faisal Awan, Waqt News reporter, Shahzad Gill, Islamabad-based Daily Sun photographer, Arfan Haider, Daily Nia Mahaz photographer, Ahmed Faraz, Geo News reporter in Lahore and Tariq Abul Hasan and Talha Hashmi of Geo News channel’s reporters in Karachi.
Muhammad Hasnain Qureshi, working for Geo News channel as senior cameraman, was stopped by Elite Police personnel in Dera Ismail Khan on October 1 while he was on his way to cover an event. He was also detained besides beatings. The issue was taken up with police through a committee involving journalists also and both sides settled the issue. On October 4, Pakistan Muslim League (N) workers attacked Tauseef Akram, cameraman of state-run Associated Press of Pakistan news agency when he was covering the party’s convention in Lahore. On October 24, NADRA officials attacked Express News channel’s cameraman Hussain Qayyum when he was on duty to cover a programme at the NADRA office. Star Asia crew – cameramen Ejaz and reporter Ramiz Shaukat – were attacked while covering family feud of Railways Police officer.
ARRESTED/DETAINED: Five tribal journalists – Khalil Afridi of Khyber News channel, Farhad Shinwari of Mashaal Radio, Mehrab Shah Afridi of Tribal News Network, Umar Shinwari of Pakistan Television channel and Imran Khattak of Khabran newspaper – and Landikotal Press Club office boy were detained in Landikotal town in Khyber tribal district near Peshawar after a magnetic bomb was discovered beneath the car these journalists were riding on November 24. Khyber Rifles – a paramilitary wing of Frontier Corps – personnel arrested the five after the bomb was defused and suspected that they were targeting Vintage Car Rally on that day. These journalists denied the paramilitary’s suspicion.
Four of five journalists were freed after 12 hours interrogation while Khalil Ahmed was freed five days later and his colleagues alleged that the interrogators used violence to extract information from him. These journalists’ release came after tribal journalists, Peshawar journalists and Freedom Network launched concerted advocacy campaign to demand the detained colleagues’ unconditional freedom. They made it happen!
MASS THREATS TO MEDIA AND CENSORSHIP IN BALOCHISTAN: Two banned Baluch insurgent groups – ‘Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and United Baloch Army (UBA)’ – said they would target after a October 24 deadline yielded no “significant results” in the shape of “favorable coverage” in the region’s newspapers. The groups warned that if the ban on sale of newspapers did not produce the desired results the next move by them would include targeting media houses and journalists in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. This warning came in printed statements issued by the groups.
Outlawed but functional groups BLF and UBA unveiled the most ominous of their threats ever in their communications with journalists’ representative bodies and media houses on October 4 and 7, 2017. On October 30, 2017, even TV channels started receiving dire written threats. Veteran journalist Lala Siddiq Baloch, who has been observing the growing trend of violence against the media in the province believes the threats are “genuine and look serious.”
Transporters halted newspapers distribution in Quetta and Baloch after deadline of October 24 by the BLA and UBA expired. On October 25, a hand-grenade was lobbed at building of press club in Hub district in Balochistan and banned militant group ‘Balochistan Liberation Front’ claimed responsibility in statement posted on its website. The press club building slightly damaged and no loss of journalist was reported. A Hand-grenade was thrown at Pak News Agency’s office in Turbat district of Balochistan injuring eight, including a staffer of the agency on October 26. Same day, Baloch insurgents opened fire on a vehicle carrying newspapers in Awaran area in Balochistan, bursting all tyres of the vehicle with gunshots and torched the newspapers.
KIDNAPPING/ABDUCTION: Two tribal journalists were picked up by armed gunmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and released after 24 hours. Shah Nawaz Tarakzai, working for Mashaal Radio, and Islam Gul, who writes for Waziristan Times, were reported “missing” on October 15 from Charsadda and Peshawar districts. They told Freedom Network that they were interrogated for alleged “links” with an online newspaper. The interrogators, according to the journalists, were the government’s security operatives. A joint campaign by tribal and Peshawar journalists’ community and Freedom Network brought an early freedom to the two journalists. They declined to say whether experienced torture during the investigation.
VERBAL THREATS: A journalist was relocated to safer place after he received verbal threats for his writings. Freedom Network will not share details about this case nor geographic location and identity for safety reason of the journalist who was at serious risk to his life.
LEGAL CASE: Upon order of Islamabad High Court, police registered an FIR against TV journalist Hamid Mir in Islamabad implicating him in murder case of former intelligence official Khalid Khawaja, who was killed in April 2010 in tribal areas and banned militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for his killing. The widow of late Khalid Khawaja moved the court to seek arrest of Hamid Mir for her husband’s kidnapping. The Lahore High Court found Hamid Mir innocent in this case. The journalist says this case “aims to pressure him.”
Threats, Attacks & Harassment against Various Types of Media
In the months of October and November 2017, a total of four categories of attacks and threats against a total of 31 practioners of various types of media were documented by Pakistan Press Clubs Safety Hubs Network and the media during October and November 2017.
Threat Actors Attacking and Harassing Journalists and Media
During October-November 2017, the various reported or suspected threat actors attacking, threatening or harming media practitioners included two outlawed Baloch insurgent groups ‘Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF) and United Baloch Army (UBA),’ Khyber Rifles of Frontier Corps, Islamabad Police, activists of Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, intelligence personnel, Pakistan Muslim League (N) activists, NADRA officials, Railways Police officials. They threatened, detained, attacked, injured, disappeared, harassed and beat up journalists in different parts of the country.
IMPUNITY WATCH: This chapter is added to fight impunity for crimes against journalists besides monitoring attacks after Freedom Network produced – SPECIAL IMPUNITY REPORT: Full Risks, Zero Justice – to commemorate International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in partnership with Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists at the National Press Club, Islamabad, on November 2.
Freedom Network checked with relevant people to register progress in the following murder cases of journalists, which were part of the Special Impunity Report, and found no real progress was made yet:
Baksheesh Elahi – murdered in Haripur (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)
Bilal Sehar – murdered in Bhakkar (Punjab)
Muhammad Jan Sulemani – murdered in Kalat (Balochistan)
Taimur Abbas – murdered in Karachi (Sindh)
- Joint efforts of tribal and Peshawar-based journalists and Freedom Network led to early release of Shah Nawaz Tarakzai and Islam Gul who were abducted in October 2017. Their abductors freed both in 24 hours after strong protest both offline and online to demand their unconditional freedom.
- Similar joint efforts of tribal and Peshawar-based journalists and Freedom Network won freedom for tribal journalist Khalil Afridi after he was detained in Landikotal town in Khyber tribal region.
- Balochistan government provided security at media houses in Quetta after the issue of banned Baloch insurgent groups’ mass threats to media and its practioners was raised through Freedom Network’s special report on Balochistan and social media platform.
- Newspapers’ distribution in Quetta city was restored after the issue of suspension was raised through Freedom Network’s social media platforms forcing provincial government to deploy forces at newspaper markets to ensure distribution. readers even could not find papers on news-stalls in Quetta city for three days. After Freedom Network highlighted the issue through a special report – SPECIAL REPORT: BLACKOUT IN BALOCHISTAN: MEDIA REPORTING IN FEAR, LIVING UNDER THREAT – and advocacy through social media platforms.