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'Where is the state?' asks Pakistani journalist under threat

Students are taken away from a Karachi seminary where they were found in chains. Producers from Samaa TV who broke the story have been threatened. (AFP/Asif Hassan)

Since making me aware of threats to Hamid Mir on December 20, Umar Cheema and I have been encouraging Pakistani journalists we know who are under threat to step forward with their own experiences. Ghulamaddin, producer for Samaa TV in Karachi who broke the story of students held in chains at a seminary, is coming forward today. (Like many Pakistanis, he uses only one name).

With seven dead this year, five in targeted killings, Pakistan tops CPJ's list of the world's most deadly country for journalists, just as it did in 2010, when eight died. That's a dangerous environment in which to treat threats lightly.

Cheema and I are convinced that widely publicizing threats is one of the best tactics to disarm them. But it is a difficult call to make. Unlike Mir, not everyone has a high enough profile to draw the wide publicity needed to disarm the situation, if indeed such situations are ever fully disarmed. It can even further antagonize the groups making the threats. Waqar Kiani found that out in June -- see our alert, "Pakistani reporter beaten for reporting earlier attack" -- when he told the world of his 2008 abduction, only to be beaten again.

In 2010, Cheema set a standard when he spoke frankly and widely of his harrowing, ugly experience at the hands of a group of men he is convinced worked for the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate. A highly publicized series of special investigations into his abduction and beating all melted away with no substantive action being taken. Given the state of political disarray in Pakistan, maybe that's to be expected when government actors are suspected of being the perpetrators.

But it's not only the state security apparatus that threatens journalists, as we often point out. They are under threat from all sides. Ghulamaddin is an example. He and Samaa TV colleague Mohammad Aatif Khan broke a local story that got global coverage. For a while now, the pair have been reporting in Karachi about, as they describe it, overt child sexual abuse, the open sale of police uniforms, a pervasive culture of bribery in the public sector, a gang of female drug peddlers, extortion --- the list goes on. Ghulamaddin says he and Khan have had to face ugly reactions and threats from various groups in past, but this time it might be worse. With Ghulamaddin's permission, I've lightly edited his message. Here is his story:

My name is Ghulamuddin and I am a senior news producer for Samaa TV. With my colleague Mohammad Aatif Khan, an associate news producer, we produce investigative reports that uncover corruption, mismanagement, mafia-type groups involved in extortion and drug peddling, and more. We are based in Karachi.

On December 13 Samaa aired our exclusive report on students being held in chains at a seminary. The story jolted Pakistani media and drew an immediate response from the government. The subsequent crackdown by police led to the rescue of over 50 shackled boys and young men from the madrassa's basement. Dozens more were released from another room. It is still difficult to gauge the brutalities that were being perpetrated on a massive scale at Dar-ul-Uloom Zakria Kandholi under the supervision of Mufti Daud, but the story drove a heated debate among officials, diplomats, human right groups, and normal Pakistanis around the country.

The seminary is located on the outskirts of Karachi and the abuse was first of its kind to be exposed in the history of the metropolis. Authorities arrested Qari Usman, the madrassa's caretaker, and some others, but Mufti Daud and other administrators managed to escape.

The visuals captured by our hidden camera were a shock, and the miseries faced by the students in confinement were a clear violation of their human rights. Our story went global and in Pakistan news channels and newspapers rebroadcast the story from Samaa's programming and aggressively entered into the race for headlines with explanations and analysis.

And that's when our troubles began: The moment our story went on air, a large number of unknown callers threatened newsroom staff who were answering the phones, demanding the station drop the story. To their credit, station management gave the threats no heed.

But extremist groups managed to get the personal details of Khan and me, including our home addresses, contact numbers, and our daily work schedules. Their first step was to intercept my brother in-law outside my residence. The group described me and demanded that he go into my home and hand me over to them.

My family and I weren't home --- we got there 10 minutes later --- and we managed to avoid the group. I told the station manager about the incident, and they told me to relocate immediately. But harassment by the groups still continues. They waved a pistol at a woman living in my neighborhood, demanding she tell them where my family and I had moved.

As the tension grew, I deactivated my Facebook account, and tried to remove as much as I could from the online record of my phone numbers and other ways to trace me. But the reality is that the network of extremist groups offended by our story is very strong and our lives are in danger anywhere in the country.

Given these highly stressful circumstances, I am living in hiding in Pakistan. My wife and our six-month old child are with me, all because I produced a story advancing human rights and freedom.

For my colleague Khan and our families, it is a stark reality that the entire state of Pakistan remains a silent spectator as we and others in the journalists' community face such threats as we go about pursuing our jobs. As it stands now, we are considering the option of seeking asylum outside our country as the only way of avoiding being butchered by the groups pursuing us.

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Comments

Thanks to CPJ for the work that you do. Thanks to you & Ghulamuddin for this story. It saddens & angers me that anyone should face such duress & threat for doing their job. Especially in such a case as this where the journalists were exposing the abuse of children. These journalists should be seen as heros not vilified.

May you stay safe and may these moulvis burn in hell fire.

Ghulamuddin your story started a great and positive debate regarding Madrassah Education in Lahore. Last week education reporters of Lahore held a session with Dean Faculty of Education Punjab University and discussed different aspects of this issue. I think your story was not against this system of education, but it highlighted the urgency to regulate it. I pray that you and your colleague remain safe.

i have nothing but love and support for GD ... despite only few personal acquaintance and rare meet ups with him, i consider him a mentor and someone to look up to...
but with utmost respect the story that "jolted" Pakistan was angled in my opinion.
Pakistan is a society that has mythical culture, traditions and practices that are unscientific and cannot be proved.
WE have have local remedies for every thing that ranges between jaundice to exorcism, which again is not scientifically proven and termed as super natural.
the cure for all these super naturals that we the pakistani society profess are more or less, barbaric, brutal and inhumane.

keeping the above argument, story broken by GD was of a sanctuary that kept drug addicts and psychological patients, specially those who were uncontrollable by the family. most of the detainees in the madarsah or sanctuary were voluntarily given to the institution by the families. The families even use to pay some amount of money for the food and residence as well.

Worse part is that, the families whose relatives were detained, were either very poor, those who could not afford expensive and running medical procedures or were afghan refugees who never got any nationality, identity or status in Pakistan, hence getting their loved ones proper medical attention was out of their reach and hence they ended up, will fully, i repeat will fully at that sanctuary. Giving this fact, the angle that it was a religious sanctuary and the people living there were detained to full fill some religious destiny is a load of lies. when police released those detainees one of them, in celebration, took an overdose of heroine and died, Thanks to the story. i guess these facts should have been mentioned in the story MR GD.
Rest assured my good wishes and wills are with you and your family.


Dear Hassam Khan, every institution falls under the umbrella of Law of the Land. According to Mufti Dawood Principal (Muhtamim)Dar-ul-Uloom Zakriya Kandohli, it was registered under Wiqa-ul-Madares(central body of Dar-ul-Ulooms). Adminstrator of the seminary used to charge from 4000PKR to 13000PKR from students kept in chains. Unfortunately, students spoke in our exclusive report were either running own business or doing jobs. The reason behind their captivity in chains was minor rifts with parents or family members. The most alarming aspect was over five chained students used to be shifted every day from the basement to the hut to monitor children aged 5 to 10 who were imparting religious in the day time. They were over 200 in number and everyone was in a stressful condition.

Among three hundred students, only few were Tajik, Uzbek and Turkman of Afghan Camp.

We all know that the society of Indo-Pak also believe in traditional ways to treating diseases but violating human rights at the cost of minor rifts is highly unjust.

It is the prime responsibility of State to fulfil the basic needs of its citizens and also keep a bulleye on institutions to avoid any untoward situation.

We played our role which resulted life threats and attempts to take revenge. Fortunately, we escaped along family and bearing confinement for a big sin to make hundreds of innocent children free. What if we are killed like Mukkarram Aatif Khan, Saleem Shahzad, Wali Khan Babar etc because State has withdrawn it responsiblity to protect Journalist Community.

@nrqazi123 We would be a very sptiud Nation if we elected same old people.I will never vote for people who are taking my rights and innocent people are dying.

me mohammad aatif khan (spy camera man) and associate producer , director , main interviewer on that report and my sr. producer Ghulamuddin , we and our families are still facing shootouts and live threats . Please do something for our life safty and Asylum ,

Best Redards
Mohammad Aatif Khan
Associate Producer .
Director .
Investigative Journalist

mohammad aatif khan July 1, 2012 8:57:42 AM ET