Attacks on the Press 2006: Pakistan


The military-backed government of President Pervez Musharraf, now in its eighth year, said in 2006 that it was fostering a free press, but the details belied the claim, and journalists continued to be targeted from many sides.

While the government has allowed the expansion of broadcast media, a three-person CPJ delegation that met with dozens of journalists in Islamabad and Peshawar in July heard a lengthy string of complaints of government abuse and neglect, as well as concerns about pending legislation that could allow monopolization of the country’s burgeoning media. The CPJ delegation had gone to Pakistan to meet with government officials after the high-profile slaying of Hayatullah Khan in June. Khan was the seventh journalist to be killed in Pakistan since the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, according to CPJ research. Only Pearl’s case was investigated to any degree of competency and publicly reported. The CPJ delegation contended that Pakistani journalists deserved the same level of attention from the authorities.

Though Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao and Secretary of Interior Syed Kamal Shah promised CPJ timely reports on the information it had gathered on the eight deaths, none were immediately released. In the Khan case, an investigation was carried out by High Court Justice Mohammed Reza Khan (no relation), but the government refused to release the judge’s findings. Khan’s case captured international interest after he was abducted near his home in Mir Ali in North Waziristan on December 5, 2005. He had taken photographs the day before suggesting that a U.S.-made Hellfire missile had struck a house and killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia. Khan’s photographs seemed to contradict official accounts that explosives within the house had caused the deadly blast. Khan, who was abducted by five men, turned up dead on June 16, 2006. During his absence, government officials appeared to mislead his family about his whereabouts and imminent safe return home.

Khan’s case heightened awareness of the threat against journalists, which might have helped motivate authorities in responding to the September 14 shooting death of reporter Maqbool Hussain Sail. After a national and international outcry, local police investigated the killing. Sail, a correspondent for the Online-International News Network, was shot by two masked gunmen on a motorcycle as he was on his way to interview a leader of the Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians at the Press Club in Dera Ismail Khan, southwest of Islamabad. The motive for the killing remained unclear, and it may have been related to sectarian violence rather than Sail’s journalism. Despite the investigation, there was no official explanation of the incident.

Incidents of violence and threats against journalists occurred nationwide, but the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in northwest Pakistan were a particular focal point. On August 30, Taimor Khan, the 16-year-old brother of Dilawar Khan, a reporter for the BBC Urdu-language news service, was found murdered in Wana, South Waziristan. Unknown assailants seized Dilawar Khan in November, holding him for a day against his will and interrogating him about his sources.

At least three journalists were detained under questionable circumstances. Members of a reporting team with the privately owned satellite broadcaster Geo TV—including correspondent Mukesh Rupeta and freelance cameraman Sanjay Kumar—were taken by authorities on March 6, when they were reportedly taking pictures of an air base near Jacobabad near the Sindh-Baluchistan border. Rupeta and Kumar were held for more than three months without charge before being released on bail; they were later charged with violations of the Official Secrets Act.

On July 2, authorities detained Mehruddin Mari, a correspondent for the Sindhi-language newspaper The Daily Kawish in Golarchi. Mari was taken by police on the road between Golarchi and the town of Jati, southeast of Karachi. He was not released until October 24, and police refused to comment on the case either during or after his detention. Mari told the BBC Urdu-language service that he was interrogated, beaten, and subjected to electric shocks and other forms of torture in an attempt to make him confess to ties with the Baluch nationalist movement.

Another journalist was abducted. Saeed Sarbazi of the Business Recorder was dragged from his car by unknown kidnappers on September 20 in Karachi. When he was released three days later, Sarbazi told colleagues at the Karachi Press Club that he “was interrogated about my personal and professional details, my family members, and my connection with the so-called Baluch Liberation Army.” Sarbazi said he was kept awake, beaten, and tortured. There was no official explanation of the incident or any apparent police investigation.

The string of cases—almost all of them uninvestigated and unexplained—contributed to a feeling of isolation among Pakistani journalists, and a fear that they were easy targets for thugs, gunmen, and government agents. Members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists told a CPJ delegation in Islamabad that they felt they had little backing from their employers or their government. While a small group working for mainline media is relatively well paid, most Pakistani journalists are not. Pay increases enacted by the Wage Board in October 2001 still had not been implemented.

Journalists said they were also concerned that their employers were being drawn into a comfortable agreement with the government that would allow media owners to hold companies across print and broadcast platforms. Critics of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Bill (PEMRA), which was making its way through the legislature, said the bill would give media owners power to control the press through cross-ownership and potentially unrestricted monopolistic practices. Pakistani journalists told CPJ they feared that once owners of newspapers—which are not regulated—got involved in the regulated broadcast sectors, editors would inevitably be restricted in their coverage.