Islamabad – the most dangerous city for journalists

By: Hamid Mir      Published: 01:02 PM, 3 May, 2021
Islamabad – the most dangerous city for journalists
Representative image.

It was 17 March 2021 when a murder attack was made on a young journalist, Ajay Kumar Lalwani, in Sukkur. Three bullets pierced his body. The injured journalist was taken to a hospital but he had lost the battle of life. Lalwani used to work for a TV channel and he also wrote for a local newspaper. 

Before his murder, he was investigating a case of a Jamshoro University student, Irfan Jatoi who was killed in a fake police encounter. Mr Lalwani received death threats. Hurling threats to journalists is common in Pakistan. Some people stop pursuing their work after receiving threats but some don’t bother. Lalwani belonged to the latter group. He ignored the threats and was killed. 

When the journalist community protested over his murder, police arrested four people. But the family of the murdered journalist said that police were not arresting real culprits. On their complaints, the authorities changed the investigating police officer. 

With the change of investigating officer, the nominated accused also changed. Police pronounced two local politicians and a police officer accused in Lalwani murder case. All three accused are still absconding. In Pakistan, the murderers of journalists either remain elusive or unknown.

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On 16 Feb 2020, the body of journalist Aziz Memon who was working for a Sindhi TV channel was recovered from a local canal in Mehrabpur. Police declared the incident a suicide case. Media persons dismissed the police report saying it was not suicide, it was a murder. 

When protests erupted in different cities, the authorities changed the investigating team of Aziz Memon murder case. Then poor journalist’s death changed from suicide to a murder case. The main accused of the Memon case are also still at large. 

In March 2018, journalist Zeeshan Ashraf Butt who was associated with daily Nawa-i-Waqt was riddled with bullets in Sambrial. Moments prior to the attack, Zeeshan was calling the police and disclosing the name of the man who was going to murder him when the shots were fired that finished him. 

Sialkot police are still in possession of this phone call recording but the main culprit as usual still evades arrest. 

On 23 July, 2020, a journalist Anwar Jan Khethran was shot dead in Barkhan area of Balochistan. In the FIR, a provincial minister belonging to Barkhan was nominated as an accused. But police contended to arrest a bodyguard of the minister and let the real culprit go scot free. 

Last year International Federation of Journalists published a white paper which reported that between 1990 and 2020, 138 journalists were killed in Pakistan while performing their journalistic duties. A rise in the crimes against journalists was witnessed soon after 11 Sept 2001. Then president General Pervez Musharraf changed his policy on American pressure. With this, incidents of militancy against the State also started going up. 

On one hand, the state pressed journalists to conceal facts in the name of national interests and patriotism and on the other, the militants started calling media persons agents of foreign powers. And media became an easy target on both sides. 

In 2006, a journalist, Hayatullah Khan who hailed from North Waziristan came to Islamabad. He told me that he was under extreme pressure because he revealed true story of an American drone attack in Mir Ali in the media. The government declared drone attack as bomb blast. But Hayatullah had released the pictures of the pieces of American missile used in the attack and ’made in US’ was inscribed on the missile. The government warned Hayatullah ‘either cooperate with the government or quit journalism’. 

He asked me what should he do? Should he say goodbye to the journalism. I gave him courage and said never quit journalism. Then he went back. After a few days, Hayatuallah was kidnapped. We raised lot of noise in Islamabad, held processions, brought out demonstrations outside Parliament House. We were confident that Hayatullah would be released. But our hopes died when bullet-riddled body of Hayatullah was found on a road in Mir Ali. We demanded an inquiry into the case. 

With the efforts of then interior minister Aftab Sherpao, an investigation commission was constituted. When the wife of deceased Hayatullah decided to tell the truth to the commission, the poor woman was murdered in her own house. Then his brother was also murdered. Fearing for their lives, the small children of Hayatullah left Mir Ali and shifted to Peshawar. The investigation commission remained silent. Justice was denied to the wronged. However, after 15 years of his murder, on 23 March 2021 the president bestowed medal of bravery on deceased Hayatullah and the medal was received by his son Kamran Hayat. The family of Hayatullah was denied justice but given medal of bravery. It didn’t reveal against whom Hayatullah showed his valour? 

How many incidents should I discuss? How many anecdotes of bravery and courage shown by journalists should I relate? From Geo’s correspondent Musa Khan Khel in Swat to ARY correspondent Abdul Haq Baloch in Khuzdar, we know their killers. But we failed to provide them justice. Journalism is a dangerous profession in Pakistan.

When you talk about missing persons, then you start getting threatening messages on your phone from unknown caller identity. Nowadays the trend of unknown phone calls is almost finished and media persons are openly threatened by the touts of these powerful people on social media. Those who want rule of law and constitution in the country, they make arrest first then deliberate to make a case. 

Freedom Network Pakistan in its recent report said that from May 2020 to April 2021, 148 attacks were made on journalists, which is 41% higher than the previous year. Islamabad tops the list of attacks on journalists followed by Sindh and then Punjab. The report has declared Islamabad the most dangerous city for media persons. Surveillance cameras are installed at every corner of Islamabad. But it is strange when Matiullah Jan is kidnapped or Ahmed Noorani is attacked, these cameras automatically stop working. The federal capital has been trying to bring out Journalist Protection Bill since 2011. 

Both People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League’s (Nawaz) governments could not introduce journalists’ protection bill in the assembly. However, during Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf government, Minister for Human Rights Dr Shirin Mazari and Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry did make efforts to introduce the bill. A while ago, both these ministries get passed draft of the bill from the cabinet and sent it to the Law Ministry. However, Law Minister Farogh Naseem rejected the bill. 

So we could conjecture by this act of the Law Ministry that on this day, May 3, which is celebrated as journalists’ day, the biggest ugly reality is: the Law Ministry is the major hurdle in the passage of journalists’ protection bill in Islamabad, a city that is regarded most dangerous for media persons.