In case there was any doubt about the stance of Pakistani authorities on the murder of journalists, UNESCO's 28th biennial session offered an instructive insight. In addition to discussing the U.N. Draft Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity during the meeting, held in Paris in March, member states were to report on judicial inquiries into the killings of journalists from 2006 to 2009. Pakistan was among 17 countries that did not respond to the request. It was also one of three countries that refused to discuss the UNESCO draft, intended to take legislative measures to combat attacks on the press. This was a reflection of our sad state of affairs.
In Pakistan, the term "a war of words" can take on a menacing dimension beyond the metaphorical. Words--written, spoken, or reported--regularly land journalists in trouble, a very literal, physical sort of trouble. Reporters have become accustomed to being threatened, and over the years they've seen threats sometimes build to abductions, beatings, and even death. Such violence seldom comes without a string of prior warnings.
As journalists continue to be targeted, the government of Asif Ali Zardari has shown itself unable and unwilling to stand up for a free press. Whatever solutions exist will have to be found by people in the profession. By Bob Dietz
With the shooting of Mukarram Khan Aatif on Tuesday, the once high-profile case of Saleem Shahzad has almost been overtaken by events. The day before Aatif's death, Umar Cheema had sent me a link to his analysis of the judicial inquiry into the killing of Saleem Shahzad.
Geo TV's most prominent television anchor, and one of the most prominent journalists in Pakistan, has just circulated a detailed email message of threats he has been receiving. Hamid Mir's open, public response to the threats is a textbook case of how to handle the steady stream of intimidation that journalists face, not just in Pakistan but in other parts of the world as well. His entire message is reproduced at the end of this post.
Just a few pointers to the angry discussion that is going on among Pakistan's journalists about the killing of Saleem Shahzad. The Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) seems to have emerged as the prime target of accusation, but it has rejected claims of any involvement.
In an Associated Press of Pakistan article Tuesday slugged "Salim Shahzad death source of concern for entire nation: ISI official," an unnamed ISI official denied allegations that the agency was involved in Shahzad's death. APP is the official news agency for the Pakistan government. The pro-military and security establishment PakNationalists website followed suit with a reprint headlined "Stop Using Saleem Shahzad's Death To Target ISI." And here's the BBC's take on the ISI response.
CPJ has always been careful to avoid making accusations when journalists are abducted or killed in Pakistan. Our tactic is to call for full investigations either by the police, the courts or special investigative bodies. In many such cases, the local journalists' community blames government security agencies, including the powerful Inter Services Intelligence group (ISI), as we noted a few days ago in an alert. Umar Cheema, who was abducted and humiliated over the weekend of September 4 and 5 near Islamabad, has specifically accused the ISI of being involved in his case and has stuck with those accusations.
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