Four Urdu-language newspapers in the southwestern province of Balochistan, Pakistan and a TV station are facing judicial proceedings for disseminating statements by banned terrorist organisations that they had distributed under duress.
On 18 April 2013, Reporters Without Borders reported that four of the most widely-read Urdu-language newspapers in the southwestern province of Balochistan – Mashriq, Express, Intikhab and Jang – are being investigated under the anti-terrorism law for publishing a statement by the banned Balochistan Liberation Army in which it claimed responsibility for the murder of a policeman.
Two of these newspapers – Mashriq and Jang – and the TV station Geo News are also being investigated for carrying an anti-democratic diatribe by Hakeemullah Masood, the head of the outlawed armed Islamist group Tehreek-e-Taliban.
“We call for the immediate withdrawal of all the judicial proceedings that have been initiated against these media on the pretext of combatting terrorism,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“They did not disseminate the statements of these banned terrorist organizations freely. They did so under duress, as a result of threats that the Pakistani authorities should be preventing. As they did not express support for these organizations, charges cannot be brought against them.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Balochistan’s police and judicial authorities would do better to concentrate on finding and punishing those responsible for murdering journalists. Few of them have ever been caught.”
Essa Tareen, the head of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), told Reporters Without Borders that the investigation against the four newspapers was opened on 12 April on the basis of a so-called First Information Report or FIR filed by the police officer Mohibullah Dadi.
Reporters, editors and managing editors have since then been cited under various articles of the anti-terrorism law although none of their names was mentioned in the FIR, Tareen said.
The FIR and the decision to open the investigation were the result of a meeting between Balochistan chief justice Qasi Faez Isa and members of the Quetta police on 9 April during which the police criticized the publication of the Balochistan Liberation Army statement claiming police officer Amir Muhammad Dasti’s murder.
They said it “demoralized” the police and “intimidated” the population. They also accused the media of “glorifying” the province’s armed separatist movement, referring to them as “mujahedeen” and “holy warriors.”
Balochistan is one of the world’s most dangerous regions for journalists. Mashriq, Express, Intikhab and Jang have for years been the targets of serious threats by both outlawed separatist groups and the authorities.
“We, the journalists, have been sandwiched between the government and the militant organizations,” Tareen said.
In a 17 April 2013 hearing about the publication of the Tehreek-e-Taliban leader’s statement by Mashriq, Jang and Geo News, Chief Justice Isa said the media should not consider themselves “above the law.”
When a lawyer acting for the media tried to point out that they were under pressure from the militant groups, Isa replied that they had “better open another business if cannot face the threats” and that judges were also threatened by these groups. “What the media were publishing comes under anti-terrorism law,” he added.
Journalists who attended the hearing told Reporters Without Borders that the chief justice was clearly furious about the space and airtime that the media have given to armed groups. At the end of the hearing, he issued a summons to Jang and Geo News to attend the next hearing on 2 May.
A total of four journalists have been killed in Balochistan since the start of the year. Three were killed in a double bombing in Quetta on 10 January. They were Samaa News cameraman Imran Shaikh, Samaa News reporter Saifur Rehman and Mohammad Iqbal, a photographer with News Network International (NNI), a news agency.
The fourth victim was Mehmood Ahmed Afridi, a reporter for the newspaper Intikhab, who was gunned down in Karat on 1 March. His murder was claimed within hours by the Balochistan Liberation Army.