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Pakistan 30 July 2004

Harassment and violence against journalists in South Waziristan

Journalists in South Waziristan are "caught between a rock and a hard place," the organisation said, explaining that they are threatened by Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants on the one hand and obstructed by government security forces on the other.

The attack on the radio station, located in the town of Wana, took place on 27 July, just a week after the station was opened by the Pakistani authorities. Two explosions that seriously damaged the antenna were followed by a short exchange of shots between the assailants and security forces. The station was forced off the air and its programming - consisting mainly of music and news in the Pashto language - had still not resumed yesterday.

Reporters Without Borders stressed that the premises and installations of news media are not viewed as legitimate military targets under the Geneva Conventions unless they actively contribute to the pursuit of military goals. The organisation therefore roundly condemned the bombing on the radio station, especially as it could have caused injuries and loss of life.

The attack came just 10 days after the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) voiced concern about the situation in South Waziristan at a press conference held with Reporters Without Borders’ support in Islamabad on 17 July that was attended by foreign diplomats, NGO representatives and civil society leaders. Reporters Without Borders also backed the TUJ in its call for respect for press independence and the free movement of journalists in South Waziristan.

In a resolution read out at the press conference, the TUJ condemned the restrictions imposed on journalists of the Tribal Areas when they try to do their job in South Waziristan and it called on the Pakistani government to take the necessary measures to ensure that press freedom is respected there.

The TUJ also condemned the use of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), under which a state of emergency has been declared in the Tribal Areas enabling the security forces to violate the principle that journalists’ sources are confidential.

TUJ president Sailab Mehsud said he has received anonymous letters and telephone threats. He blamed some of these threats on the local government, which he also accused of trying to keep all journalists out of the areas where the military are operating. "Even journalists travelling to this area for personal regions are pulled out of their cars and thrown in prison," he said.

It has been virtually impossible since March for journalists to cover the military operations being carried out by the Pakistani authorities against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in South Waziristan. Reporters Without Borders received reports of at least 10 arrests of journalists in this region between March and June.




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