Pakistan:Musharraf government ignores promises to protect journalists

New York, September 21, 2006—As violence against journalists and violations of press freedom grow in Pakistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the government to keep its promise to reveal all information it holds on media deaths and disappearances.

CPJ research shows that nine journalists have died for their work since 2002, and there have been at least 20 other cases in which journalists have been assaulted or improperly detained. In recent months, the shooting deaths of two journalists apparently went uninvestigated by the government, and the teenage brother of a BBC reporter was shot after the family’s home was bombed in December of last year. In addition, five men have disappeared, two of whom emerged from more than three months in secret government detention and were finally charged. The whereabouts of the three still missing is not known. The most recent unexplained disappearance happened on Wednesday.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and Secretary of the Interior Syed Kamal Shah made a pledge to shed light in a timely manner on the deaths and disappearances in a meeting with a three-person CPJ delegation in Islamabad in July. North West Frontier Province Gov. Ali Mohammed Jan Orekzai repeated the promise in a meeting with the same CPJ delegation in Peshawar.

The three officials also pledged to establish a continuing dialogue with Pakistani journalist organizations and to assure them of government support for journalists’ safety—another promise they have failed to honor.

In the prominent case of the abduction and death of North Waziristan journalist Hayatullah Khan, the government has not released the findings of the special investigation led by High Court Justice Mohammed Reza Khan. The slain journalist’s family said they were not interviewed by the judge or other investigators. Pakistani journalists tell CPJ the lack of information poisons the atmosphere for their work and makes them fear for their safety.

“President Pervez Musharraf should immediately release the investigation’s findings on an interim basis and, if Judge Khan’s work was not thorough enough, insist that it be competently carried out,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.

Since the July meetings between the government and CPJ, the assault on journalists has continued. The record this year is chilling:

• On September 20, Saeed Sarbazi, a senior journalist for the Business Recorder and joint secretary of the Karachi Press Club, left his home to drive to the press club. Colleagues say he contacted his family by mobile phone around midday, but has not been heard from since then and his car has not been found. Authorities have made no statement about Sarbazi’s disappearance.

• After a national and international outcry, local police investigated the September 14 shooting death of Maqbool Hussain Sail, 32. Two masked gunmen on a motorcycle shot Sail in Dera Ismail Khan, 175 miles (280 kilometers) southwest of Islamabad as he was on his way to interview a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians at the Dera Ismail Khan Press Club. The motive for the killing remains unclear, and might be related to sectarian violence rather than Sail’s journalism. There has been no official explanation of the incident.

• On August 30, Taimor Khan, the 16-year-old brother of Dilawar Wazir Khan, a reporter for the BBC Urdu-language service, was found murdered in Wana, South Waziristan. He had been abducted the day before on his way home from school. The Khan family home was bombed in December 2005, and like many journalists, Dilawar has left Waziristan following pressures from militants and government or military officials.

• On July 2 Mehruddin Mari, a correspondent for the Sindhi-language newspaper The Daily Kawish, was taken by police on the road between the town of Jati, southeast of Karachi, and the town of Golarchi, where Mari is the Daily Kawish correspondent. Police have declined to comment on the case.

• On June 22, criminal charges were finally brought against Geo TV correspondent Mukesh Rupeta and freelance cameraman Sanjay Kumar. The pair had been detained since March 6 for filming a Pakistani air force base. Geo TV made its first public statement about their detention on the day before the charges were brought, after authorities refused to reveal details of their whereabouts or the accusations against them. After the charges were brought, the men were released on bail.

• On May 29, Munir Ahmed Sangi, a cameraman for the Kawish Television Network (KTN) in Larkana in southeast Pakistan’s Sindh district was shot while covering a gunfight between members of the Unar and Abro tribes. Police said Sangi was killed in crossfire, although some colleagues believe he may have been deliberately targeted for the station’s reporting on a jirga, or tribal council, held by leaders of the Unar tribe, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). The government has not released a report of its findings in Sangi’s death.

• On April 4, Munir Mengal, an ethnic Baluch from Karachi, was apparently seized by officials at Karachi airport as he returned from Dubai and has not been heard from since. Mengal, an accountant by trade, was involved in the early stages of planning for a Baluch-language television program. Baluchistan is the scene of conflict between government forces and local militias fighting mainly over the province’s lucrative natural resources. CPJ is concerned that Mengal is being held for his involvement in the planning for the program. “Pakistan’s former reputation as a media-friendly country is in tatters,” Simon added. “As the government struggles to cope with internal and external pressures, it is rapidly turning its back on its journalists and their need for safety. It is in the interest of all the people of Pakistan that the media be independent, and free of government pressure and control.

“We call on the Musharraf government to reveal what information it has on the deaths of all journalists. Only one of the cases since 2002, that of the American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Pearl, has been investigated to any degree of competence and reported to the public,” Simon said. “Pakistani journalists deserve the same sort of treatment and respect.”