New York, March 3, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s attack on the offices of Geo television in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan Province.
On March 2, about 20 rioters broke into the offices of the private Geo television station and set fire to administrative records, newspapers, and other materials, according to the Karachi-based Pakistan Press Foundation. The office was closed for a holiday, and no one was injured. The building also houses the offices of the national daily Jang newspaper. Police have not made any arrests in the attack.
The incident occurred after assailants opened fire on a religious procession of Shiite Muslims in Quetta, marking the Ashura festival, the holiest day in the Shiite calendar. A suicide bomber also detonated an explosion in the crowd. Members of the procession and police returned fire, according to press reports. At least 47 people were killed in the attack, which launched widespread rioting throughout Quetta. Officials have enacted a curfew on the city.
On February 24, Geo television broadcast a talk show during which the moderator made statements that some members of the Shiite minority found offensive, according to local journalists and press reports. On February 29, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Karachi Press Club, chanting slogans against the Geo program. About 15 of the protesters stormed the building and beat up a security guard, according to a report in the national English-language Dawn newspaper.
In recent months, Quetta has been the scene of numerous bomb blasts and periodic sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups. About 80 percent of Pakistan’s 140 million Muslims belong to the Sunni sect.