Pakistan news crew attacked at midday in central Peshawar

New York, August 22, 2011–A midday attack on three Khyber TV personnel in central Peshawar underscores the vulnerability of Pakistan journalists as the country’s security situation grows more precarious, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Speaking by telephone from Islamabad, Hasan Khan, Khyber TV’s director of news and current affairs, confirmed media reports and email messages to CPJ from other journalists that five or six men beat Khyber TV desk editor Syed Waqas Shah, bureau chief Hazrat Khan, and Peshawar-based editor Akhbar-e-Khyber at around 2:30 p.m. near several government offices and police checkpoints in Peshawar. A Khyber cameraman and soundman were also in the car but managed to escape.

Khan said the attackers, on two motorcycles and a car, stopped the Khyber crew car and denounced the station for broadcasting stories on corruption in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government before beating the men and throwing stones at them. He said one or two of the men were seriously injured but that he was waiting for more reports from the hospital for clarification.

The station recently ran a five-day series on corruption in the local government. “We are not making accusations,” Khan told CPJ. “Many journalists in Peshawar think the government is behind it, but it might have been that some other group took advantage of our stories to attack us and make the government look even worse.”

“This brazen daytime attack in the heart of a major city shows just how vulnerable Pakistan’s journalists are to violence from any quarter,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “It is clear that the government is unwilling or unable to address the impunity with which attacks against journalists take place, often leaving members of the media to fend for themselves.” 

With nine media deaths last year, CPJ data ranked Pakistan as the most deadly country in the world for journalists, with a record of near-perfect impunity in bringing prosecutions against journalists’ killers. Five journalists have already been killed this year in the country.

Peshawar is the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province. The city borders the loosely governed Federally Administered Tribal areas, which are home to militant groups conducting operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peshawar itself is often the scene of violence. Attacks on journalists there have never been prosecuted, according to CPJ data.