An Afghan journalist working for Voice of Germany (VoG) Pashto Service in Quetta, provincial capital of southwestern Balochistan province, has been forced to leave Pakistan after receiving threatening phone calls. The calls from unidentifiable and identifiable telephone numbers warned him against filing reports that “go against our policies.”
Habibur Rehman Taseer said in an audio message he sent to a journalist in Quetta and obtained by Freedom Network [FN] that the threats made through telephone calls on three different occasions forced him to leave for Afghanistan. “I and my family are saying bye, bye to Quetta after life threats,” the journalist said in his audio message.
He left on 6 September 2014 after receiving threatening calls for two consecutive previous days. Mr Taseer further said: “I’m not leaving Quetta for my own security concerns but I’m doing it for the sake of my children’s safety.”
FN has expressed indignation over the journalist’s “forced departure” from Pakistan and regarded it as an attack on the freedom of the press. “We demand of the government to investigate into the matter and find out who is behind these calls,” FN, Pakistan’s first media watchdog organisation, said in its press freedom alert.
The journalist was working for the German broadcaster VoG for the last four years, according to his colleagues in Quetta. “In the last and third call, I was told where my children go to school and the caller even mentioned their names. These details really frightened us and we immediately decided to leave Quetta the same day,” the Afghan journalist said while giving further details.
It is a known fact that media in Pakistan is under serious threat from both the state and non-state elements. Balochistan Union of Journalists puts the number of killed journalists during the last 10 years at 40.
Taseer’s forced departure comes days after two journalists – Balochistan Union of Journalists general-secretary Irshad Mastoi and Online news agency reporter Abdur Rasool – and media assistant Muhammad Younas were gunned down in Quetta on 28 August 2014.
“The organisation for which you work is controversial and reports you file go against our policies,” the caller told 38-year-old Afghan journalist, on three different occasions through telephone calls from local mobile network and unknown numbers. The first call was made through the journalist’s mobile number when the caller identification number was the same which the journalist was using while the second call was made through an “unknown number” and the third from a mobile network.
“They (the callers) were hurling death threats and they were introducing themselves to be associated with an organisation,” Mr Taseer said. He, however, did not explain whether the organization was named or not. He said the callers also made calls to some members of Quetta Press Club telling them about him and his organisation.
Earlier, Pakistan has expelled New York Times report Declan Walsh and two Indian journalists working for their respective organisations from Islamabad. The FN thinks these forced expulsions do not go well for the reputation of the country.