Pakistani forces fire on journalists in frontier region

New York, June 11, 2009–Following the wounding of a journalist and a driver by Pakistan security forces on Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on Pakistan’s military today to institute training to prevent such incidents and to discipline troops who fire unwarrantedly. 

According to an e-mail message from the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ), troops manning a checkpoint in the Malakand Agency, within the frontier region, fired on AVT Khyber cameraman Malik Imran and the crew’s driver, Mushtaq. The area is the scene of ongoing battles between various Pakistani units–some regular army, others from the Frontier Guards–and Taliban fighters. The KhUJ reported that both men are in stable condition. Two other journalists traveling in the car, AVT Khyber reporter Lihaz Ali and photographer Abdul Majeed Gorayawere (whose affiliation was not given), were not injured. The journalists told KhUJ that their car was fired on after it had cleared the checkpoint.

The Pakistani military did not respond immediately to CPJ’s request for comment.

It is imperative that the Pakistani military review its checkpoint procedures and ensure that its soldiers allow journalists to work in safety in conflict areas,” Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

KhUJ’s parent organization, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), noted that “such incidents have become the order of the day in conflict areas.” PFUJ Secretary General Shamsul Islam Naz said in a statement from Islamabad that the extraordinary security measures adopted by the armed forces in these areas are keeping journalists from highlighting the impact of the fighting on the local populace.

CPJ supported calls from the PFUJ and its subsidiary groups for Pakistani media companies to offer safety training and protective gear for their reporters and other personnel working in combat situations. “Many Pakistani journalists are being thrown into war reporting without proper training or equipment–a problem their employers must address immediately,” said Dietz.

On the same day of the incident in Malakand, police in Rawalpindi baton-charged a group of journalists demonstrating to draw attention to the security crisis for journalists reporting in Pakistan’s war-torn regions, according to local news reports. In a statement released Wednesday, the PFUJ expressed concern that the heavy-handed police response reflected a growing attitude of indifference by government and law enforcement agencies regarding freedom of expression and the need for journalists to be able to do their work safely.

In a briefing paper in May, CPJ reported that journalists in Pakistan have come under rapidly escalating pressure as the military confronts Taliban militants in the northwest region of the country. Threats and attacks from both sides have made reporting from Taliban-controlled areas more dangerous.

In a separate incident on Monday in Islamabad, the media support group Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) reported that three journalists were injured when they were assaulted by workers of the Islami Jamiat Talaba, the student wing of Jamat-e-Islami, a religious political party, during a protest. The demonstrators told three journalists–Syed Mehdi, photojournalist for the daily The Nation, Muhammad Asim, photojournalist for the Daily Jinnah, and Aqeel Qasim Shah, cameraman for Metro One TV station–to stop taking photographs and attacked them when they did not. PPF said Mehdi was beaten with batons and received first aid treatment at a local hospital. Asim suffered minor injuries. Shah’s camera was broken and his shoulder was injured. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The location of the Malakand Agency has been corrected.