Threats to Pakistani journalists don’t let up

In the last few days, messages from two journalists in Pakistan have made me realize that I can’t turn away from publicizing the threats they are facing, because they just keep coming. 

The most recent is from Wajahat Khan, host of the political interview show “Ikhtilaf,” on Aaj TV in Islamabad. His account of threats of “beheading, bestiality, torture, and other such comforts of wrath” as he wryly puts it, started coming while his most recent show was being re-aired on Saturday. On air he had been pushing Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul — who works with the conservative Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a political bloc of conservative religious parties, some with links to militant groups — when some viewers felt he had gone too far. I’m going to take the liberty of lifting two paragraphs from his story, about the start of the threats, but you should read Khan’s full, riveting account on The Express Tribune‘s website, “Journalism under threat: Jihad, lies and video tape:”

He didn’t say hello. He knew my name and my address. He kept it short, and told me exactly what he would do to my body parts when he was done detaching them. He then hung up. That was caller one.

But that was just the bad cop routine. The good cops, several of them, came knocking with a flurry of text messages. One of them started off by asking why I was siding with India. My reply was that I was not siding with any collective, and in fact had brought up the disturbing statistic of India’s arms expenditures with Gul, asking the former ISI chief what he and the DPC were doing besides screaming murder about matching the $100 billion dollars that the Indians plan on weapons-procurement spending over the next decade. He pinged back after a few minutes, concentrating his grammar on the imaginings between my mother and some animals. The other good cops started in similar vein, one of them asking me whether I had learnt my English in America. Seeing where this could lead to, I didn’t respond. That action further lit up my afternoon, as references to pre-Islamic debauchery, disasters and disease continued to flash on my phone. No names were offered, but when my address and location was confirmed, again and again, I pressed the panic button.

The other story came in a string of emails over the last few days from Ghulamuddin, Samaa TV’s senior news producer. He, with his partner Mohammad Aatif Khan, on December 13 broke the story of boys and young men being held in chains at a religious school near Karachi, as seen on this YouTube video. Since their footage aired, they have come under near constant threat. I had blogged about it on December 27, in “‘Where is the state?’ asks Pakistani journalist under threat,” and mentioned them a few other times when discussing other threat cases. I pointed out that while more prominent journalists get a lot of support, those less prominent do not. These two men and their wives and children are moving from place to place in Pakistan, seeking some sort of safe haven. Ghulamuddin sent what I have to call, without being overly dramatic, a Chronology of Intimidation that has continued up until now. CPJ and other media support groups inside and outside Pakistan are working to help them, but here is what the lives of two reporters who dared to break a story have been like since:

December 13, 2011: Our exclusive report on “students held in chains” at Dar-ul-Uloom Kandholi Karachi was broadcast on SAMAA TV by 2100 GMT. Mr. Ghulamuddin, Sr. Producer/Investigative Journalist and Mr. Mohammad Aatif Khan, Associate Producer/Investigative Journalist are receiving death threats for unearthing the brutalities being perpetrated by Mufti Dawood and his accomplice. Taking action authorities rescued 68 chained students from the basement, dozens of kids were also recovered from a separate room and Qari Usman arrested but Mutif Dawood succeeded in fleeing with his associates.

December 14, 2011: At 22:51 GMT, I escaped along [with] my wife Tasleem Bano and little kid Hayyan Shah Alisher whilst returning from market after buying stuff to relocate. During the whole week suspected groups threatened my family members and neighbors for not disclosing [our] whereabouts.

December 29, 2011: I flew to my hometown Gilgit with family. The wave of sectarian riots, target killing, communication barriers, and mighty weather increased the stress. Analyzing the plights, journalist circles, friends, and family members suggested [we] leave for Islamabad as early as possible.

January 17, 2012: I managed to come to Islamabad and I am confined with family at an unknown location. Militants are closely monitoring my residence in Karachi and desperately searching to take revenge.

Secondly, my colleague Mohammad Aatif Khan with his wife Sajjal Aatif Khan relocated themselves separately.

January 5, 2012: Aatif went [to] his Gulshan-e-Iqbal residence to collect luggage. A group of militants carrying guns, iron rods, and batons attacked his home. Fortunately, the steel gate was locked from inside and he remained safe. It is ironical that cars [of] Aatif’s parents were being followed…which compelled them to leave their own house.

January 30, 2012: Parents of Aatif Khan returned home after 15 days of confinement. Very next day, two suspected persons knocked [at] their door and asked his father in a belligerent tone about Aatif Khan. After failing to acquire satisfactory answer, they left his home saying “We’ll take him to task.”

February 8, 2012: Four militants equipped with guns visited Aatif’s residence again and enquired from his father. He (Mohammad Arif Khan) replied [as] not having any contact with his son. “They threatened to trace and kill him.”

February 10: I contacted Aatif’s parents and suggested [they] leave their residence once again until situation gets normal. In past we have been facing reactions and threats from various segments for uncovering corruption, mismanagement, and social issues. Journalist Community is vulnerable at every front — extremist groups, political pressures, security agencies and mafias. In the existing situation, it seems very dangerous to resume our professional duties anywhere in Pakistan.