The two press freedom organisations today urged Pakistan’s federal and local authorities to quickly identify who is responsible for the kidnapping of journalist Hayatullah Khan in Pakistan’s northeastern Tribal Areas, after Taliban militants assured his family they were not involved.
Reporters Without Borders and the Tribal Union of Journalists also proposed that a meeting of elders (Jirga) should be convened in an attempt to resolve Khan’s kidnapping, which has come at a particularly tense time in the Tribal Areas adjoining Afghanistan.
“The inability of the Pakistani security forces to guarantee the safety of journalists in the Tribal Areas is undermining the bases of press freedom in this troubled region,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard and TUJ president Sailab Mahsud.
“If the authorities want to refute the rumours about the alleged involvement of the security forces in Khan’s disappearance, they should move quickly to obtain his release and ensure that the dozens of reporters active in the Tribal Areas are able to work without problems,” Ménard and Mahsud added.
The two press freedom organisations also called for a complete investigation into the murder of Naseer Afridi, a correspondent for the newspaper Khabrian and the president of the local chapter of the TUJ in Darra Adamkhel. “He was an efficient member of our Union and an honest journalist”, said Sailab Mahsud.
A correspondent for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf and the English-language daily Nation, and a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency (EPA), Khan was kidnapped in his home town of Mir Ali, in the North Waziristan part of the Tribal Areas, on 5 December.
One of his brothers today received a message from Taliban leaders in North Waziristan saying they had nothing to do with his abduction. A close associate of Khan at the same time told Reporters Without Borders that the local authorities had made no arrests.
The Taliban denial came two days after Zaheerul Islam, the federal government’s representative in North Waziristan, said “Taliban elements” appeared to have been behind the kidnapping.
Just a few of days before his abduction, Khan had investigated the reported death of Hamza Rabia, a leading Arab member of Al Qaeda, taking photos that cast doubt on the official account of his death and indicated that he was in fact been killed by a US-made missile.
In another development yesterday, a bomb was thrown into a school in South Waziristan run by Dilawar Khan, the local correspondent of the BBC World Service and the English-language daily Dawn, who told Reporters Without Borders he viewed the incident as a “very clear threatening message” to independent journalists in his part of the Tribal Areas.