New York-based South Asian weekly editor threatened

New York, April 7, 2008—The editor of a New York-based weekly told CPJ he received a death threat. Majeed Babar, executive editor of the Weekly Asia Tribune, said a man called him on March 29 and told him, “We will cut you to pieces” in Urdu.

Babar said the threat was linked to opinion columns and paid advertisements promoting a beauty pageant in his print and online newspaper, the Weekly Asia Tribune. The Tribune is a multilingual publication aimed at New York’s large South Asian community.

The columns are by a California-based contributor named Imam Shumshad Nasir, who is a leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which was expelled from Pakistan in the 1970s because they were considered “non-Muslims” by the government.

The call was part of a larger pattern of intimidating incidents directed against Babar, he said.

“We call upon the New York authorities to fully investigate reports of threats,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The authorities must send a clear signal to those who seek to intimidate or censor journalists.”

Babar left Pakistan in 2004 after threats on his life because of his work for American newspapers in the dangerous area along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. He was given refugee status in 2006, and was reunited with his wife and four children last year in New York.

Babar, who filed a complaint with New York police Friday, told CPJ that he has been under threat since early March. The first incident came in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City’s Queens borough, when a columnist from a rival newspaper, Ali Mujahid, demanded that he stop publishing columns by Imam Shumshad, Babar told CPJ. “We will teach you a lesson,” Babar said Mujahid told him.

Mujahid said he recalls meeting Babar at a community event, but denies he made any threats. “Maybe he is dreaming,” Mujahid told CPJ. “I had no intention of harming him, because he is a journalist.”

About one week later, another man, Sardar Imtiaz, confronted him on the street in Brooklyn, Babar said. “He grabbed my hand and was yelling,” Babar told CPJ. Imtiaz also demanded that the Tribune stop publishing columns by Shumshad. He allegedly threatened him, saying, “You are working against the values of Islam.’” Babar said he fears he will be physically attacked by Imtiaz or his supporters. Imtiaz denied there was any threat made in the conversation: “I did not yell at him, but I did tell him to stop publishing Imam Shumshad’s column, or at least identify him as a non-Muslim,” Imtiaz told CPJ.

Babar said the Tribune stopped publishing the paid advertisements for Miss Pakistan World for one week in an agreement with the beauty pageant.

Combining Pashto, Urdu, and English-language articles, the Weekly Asia Tribune and its Web site target the large Afghan, Indian, and Pakistani communities in the New York area. Babar said he will continue to publish the paper despite the threats.

This is not the first conflict within the Pakistani media in New York. In June 2007, CPJ wrote to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg asking the city to investigate threats made against the editors of two New York-based Urdu-language weekly newspapers. There were repeated incidents of organized destruction of the newspapers themselves from various distribution points in boroughs across New York City said to be in direct reprisal for the newspapers’ reporting and commentary, including coverage of alleged criminal activities by Pakistani-Americans living in New York City and opinion pieces by Jewish authors.