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Baluchistan Journalists threatened: Death or jail

By Kathy Gannon

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 16 2012 2:45 p.m. MDT

Rather than the respectful, euphemistic terms usually used by Urdu-language press for a person's death, "they say we should use the same word we use if an animal dies," he said.

In recent years Pakistan's Baluchistan province has been shattered by relentless bloodletting by the separatists and by Sunni militant killings and suicide bombings against Shiites. Human rights activists and international aid workers operating in Baluchistan have also been attacked. The international Red Cross suspended its operations in May after one of its workers was killed in Quetta.

"For us Baluchistan has become a source of great concern," said Bob Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. "The situation in Baluchistan looks set to continue for a long time — the issues are deep seated and don't lend themselves to easy solutions. For media support groups, the region has emerged as a new front line."

Escalating violence is making vast parts of Baluchistan inaccessible to reporters and human rights workers, said Dietz.

That, he contended, seems to suit the government.

"The government seems to be quite happy that there is little or no independent monitoring of the situation," he said. He also criticized the Baluchistan provincial government for laying charges against journalists and news organizations covering both sides in the conflicts ravaging the region.

In an interview in Quetta, provincial police chief Omar Ibne Khitab justified the charges, saying the anti-terror law was clear. He also said his force does not have the equipment to trace the threatening telephone calls to journalists and locate the culprits.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan issued a report last month criticizing the government for inaction on arresting those who have attacked and threatened journalists as well as national media outlets for neglecting coverage of events in Baluchistan. The report said local journalists feel threatened from all sides and neglected by the government.

"Journalists in the field felt threatened from the security forces, militants and insurgents," said the report released Aug. 30. "If they said one thing they were traitors to one side and if they did not they were traitors to the other side.

From within the HRCP's heavily guarded office, Shamsul Mulk said rights workers risked their lives investigating the killings of journalists as well as the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of scores of people, many linked to the separatist movement. Many rights workers have left the organization out of fear for their lives.

"I wouldn't be here if there wasn't a guard outside the door," he said. "People are afraid. They are not even attending our meetings anymore."

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Kathy Gannon is The AP Special Regional Correspondent for Pakistan and Afghanistan. She can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon

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