Even by Pakistani standards, a terrible month for press

May has been a terrible month for journalists in Pakistan, a country that has ranked as the world’s deadliest place for the press for two consecutive years. Two journalists have been killed, two more shot and wounded, and one attacked while in police custody, all in less than a month, according to news reports.

The body of Tariq Kamal, 35, a crime reporter for a local Sindhi-language paper, was found on May 9 with multiple gunshot wounds and what local papers said were signs of torture. Kamal’s body was found with that of his friend, Fawad Sheikh, a small-business owner, in Pak Colony, a part of the city of Karachi that is often the scene of shootings and turf warfare between political and criminal gangs.

Kamal’s family had reported him missing after he returned from the area around the town of Vinder in the restive province of Baluchistan on May 6. The English-language daily Dawn reported that both men’s families said they had been contacted by the abductors, who used Kamal’s phone to tell them the men would be killed because they were police informants. There were no requests for ransom, and police have made no arrests in the case, according to local news reports. The murders were part of six violent deaths that day in Karachi, according to Pakistani press–none of those have been pursued either.

On May 19, the body of Razzaq Gul was found in Turbat, a city in southwest Baluchistan. News accounts said that Gul, a 10-year correspondent for Express News TV, had been shot in the head and chest at least 15 times. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists reported that the journalist had been abducted near his home, but his body was dumped in another part of the city. The union also said the family mentioned no recent threats and that Gul’s colleagues were unaware of any threats against him as well.

The All Baluchistan Press Club announced it would begin a series of protests on June 1 if Gul’s killers had not been apprehended. Police have not announced any developments in the case and–given the near-perfect record of impunity for the journalist killings in Pakistan–it does not look likely that they will.

The violence and political chaos in Baluchistan has gotten so bad that Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry said on Wednesday that if the prime minister didn’t take steps to improve law and order in the country, the court would declare a state of emergency. Chaudhry said he would do that to head off the military, which could declare a state of emergency to try and quell the rising violence by separatist insurgents in the region.

In Karachi, two journalists were wounded on May 22 while covering a political rally. Aslam Khan, a correspondent for Dunya News TV, and Muhammad Khalil Adil, a station cameraman, were hit by stray bullets from groups firing on the crowd from rooftops. Demonstrators from various political parties were protesting graffiti that called for the ethnic division of the Sindh province. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Police arrived two hours after the shooting that day, and have made no arrests yet, according to news reports.

On May 18, members of the government’s paramilitary Frontier Constabulary attacked a correspondent for the Online News Agency, the journalist’s colleagues said. Roshan Wazir was reporting on a tribal jirga–a meeting of tribal elders–when the officials took him to their office and detained him for two hours, beating him with sticks the whole time, his colleagues said. The Karachi-based media support organization Pakistan Press Foundation reported that Wazir’s abductors were angered by his reporting and warned him not to report the attack to the authorities or they would retaliate.

In the midst of all this mayhem and murder, it will be difficult to determine who killed Tariq Kamal and Razzaq Gul–and why. Were they killed because of their work as journalists? Was there some other reason that would compel their murderers to pump so many rounds into their bodies? With no police investigations that go beyond entering the journalists’ deaths into a logbook, it is difficult to determine. And who were the rooftop gunmen who opened fire on a street filled with demonstrators and journalists? Despite calls for the killers to be brought to justice, the attacks will soon be all but forgotten–except, of course, for the family and friends of the journalists who died.