Monday, December 20, 2010

Editorial: Justice for Journalists

The Baloch Hal

Editorial: Justice for Journalists

Posted: 20 Dec 2010 01:24 AM PST

Journalists across Balochistan are still protesting vociferously against the recent killings of two senior Baloch reporters in Gwadar and Khuzdar. They are dismayed over the lackluster official response to a genuine demand to bring the murderers of newsmen Lala Hammed Hayatan, 25, and Mohammad Khan Sasoli, 36, to justice by probing the brutal targeted killings.

The bulk of protests are taking place in the Baloch-dominated districts such as Gwadar, Noshki and Khuzdar. Unfortunately, the Balochistan Union of Journalists, based in Quetta, has not acted swiftly to express solidarity with the rural reporters; nor has nation-wide condemnation been made to stand in unity with the jeopardized Baloch media professionals.

Reputed newspaper Dawn rightly editorialized, “we no longer have the reaction we witnessed in the past as, for example, in the wake of the killing of Hayat Muhammad Khan in Fata in 2006. Protest has given way to skepticism.”

Enraged journalists in Balochistan have hoisted black flags on press club buildings, wore black ribbons on their shoulders to denounce the coldblooded murders. The Khuzdar Press Club has announced to boycott the reporting of local leaders’ events because of latter’s off-putting reaction to the killing of Mohammad Khan Sasoli, the president of the district’s press club who was gunned down outside his residence last week.

According to Reporters Without Borders, a reputed international watchdogs which strives for the freedom of the Press, Pakistan has the highest number of journalists killed in the entire world during 2010. Out of 54 journalists murdered this year, 12 belonged to Pakistan. The other two countries closer to Pakistan as dangerous places for journalists are Iraq and Mexico where seven journalists have been killed in each country. By now, nearly half of journalists killed this year in Pakistan remained the victims of the ongoing conflict in Balochistan.

RSF has demanded “an exhaustive investigation” into the murders of Sasoli and the three other journalists killed this year in Balochistan. “Only by arresting and punishing their murderers will the authorities be able to put a stop to the violence against Pakistani journalists, which has reached an unprecedented level in 2010,” it said.

A RSF press release rightly observed, “it is deplorable that since US reporter Daniel Pearl’s murder in 2002, no one has been brought to trial for the murder of a journalist in Pakistan. A total of 12 journalists have been killed in Pakistan this year alone.”

Jacqueline Park, the Asia-Pacific Director of International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), termed Balochistan as a “notoriously dangerous location to work as a journalist” in an official statement while backing Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ (PFUJ) demand for a through probe into the murders of the Baloch journalists. He added,“Of grave concern is the shameful lack of action by authorities to investigate these murders and bring those responsible to justice.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a special report, “As bombings spread, Pakistan deadliest nation” remarked, “for many years, journalists in Pakistan have been murdered by militants and abducted by the government.”

The longer the government employs delaying tactics in investigating the murders of two leading Baloch journalists, the more it will provide currency to the suspicions and allegations about the official involvement in the successful assassination plots. An inquiry must be initiated as soon as possible with a firm commitment to bring the perpetrators to book. Violence directed at journalists is clearly meant to silence the local press at the peak of the conflict. If the media operating in Balochistan is muzzled, it will only contribute to chaos and bad governance in Balochistan.

Islamabad’s unwillingness to lift the ban on The Baloch Hal, Balochistan’s first online English newspaper, which was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on the instructions of the country’s military authorities, clearly shows that the voice of the people is being systematically eliminated in Balochistan. The government is pursuing this undemocratic approach either by shutting down Baloch media outlets or allegedly sponsoring journalists’ killings. In some other instances, criminal cases have been registered against Baloch journalists. Homes of some other journalists have been raided, as was seen during a fresh raid on the residence of Qazi Dad Rehan, the secretary general of Gwadar Press Club and a close friend of the slain journalist Lala Hameed Hayatan.

We would like to urge the government as well as all the stakeholders of the conflict to respect the freedom of press and allow journalists perform their professional responsibilities without any fear and favor. The media in Balochistan is the last hope for the people living inside and outside Balochistan to ascertain the real picture of developments taking place in the volatile province.

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