Pakistani journalist Muhammud Rasool Dawar under threat

We get a fairly steady stream of journalists in Asia asking for assistance. The majority of the requests come from journalists who have been threatened, and the threats can come from just about anywhere: militant groups, the military, government officials, powerful local politicians, arms runners, and drug dealers.

Several years ago, we tried to encourage journalists under threat to publicize the message they had been getting. That worked for a while, especially in Pakistan, but then subsided; the tactic of publicizing threats never found its own solid platform within Pakistan. But a recent message from Muhammud Rasool Dawar stands out from that general trend of non-disclosure. In a widely sent email message Monday, he outlined the threats and abuse that he has been facing for his work for Geo TV News in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the region along the border with Afghanistan that is home to many militant factions, many with links to the Taliban.

It is also the region where Pakistan’s military has been carrying out a long campaign against those groups. Called Zerb-e-Azb (Strike of the Prophet’s Sword), the campaign has largely been closed to media coverage other than that of reporters embedded with the troops, who admit to restrictions on their coverage. Local journalists are not allowed to report on the widespread destruction, and are generally kept out of the battle zones, even their home villages. In addition to Geo, Rasool Dawar works for a local broadcaster, FM 96, and an Urdu-language daily, Nawa-i-waqt, and he has several clips from The Associated Press from a few years ago.

In his lengthy May 4 email message, Rasool Dawar listed several incidents of detention since February: “I have been picked up/arrested in Peshawar [the largest city bordering on FATA] on two separate occasions for unknown reasons by security forces and kept in custody under extremely torturous conditions. I still feel frightened and am not comfortable at all to continue my professional duties at my work-stations in a free manner. Their threatening attitude and ‘advice’ to leave the town for some time prompted me to shift to Islamabad for about a week. Now am gravely concerned about my safety as it’s still uncertain when all this is going to end. The threat is not yet over. This is the first time in my nine-year journalistic career that I have experienced such frightening situation in which I was even physically harassed.” Two months after the first incident, he was blindfolded and detained again, only to be taken to the same place he had been held originally.

Wisely, Rasool Dawar’s email was CCed to four Pakistani journalists groups, four relevant security and police organizations, and two international organizations, CPJ and Reporters Without Borders. In the email thread that followed his message, we decided that international publicity–his case has already been widely publicized within Pakistan–would put the most pressure on the authorities to end their abuse.

Ever since the failure of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to follow through on the commitments he made to a high-level CPJ delegation in March 2014, including speaking out against abuse like that being dealt to Rasool Dawar, it has become clear that journalists, their organizations, and the media houses for which they work are largely on their own in terms of protecting themselves. An aggressive open response can sometimes bring an end to the specific abuse, though it doesn’t guarantee that it won’t come around again.