Reporters Without Borders today urged the Pakistani government to act against religious extremists threatening journalists and cited the targeting of Khyber Agency reporters Nasrullah Afridi and Khayalmat Shah by a local mufti, Munir Shakir.
“The threats to journalists in the tribal areas are unacceptable,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said, “and we call on the government to take steps to deal with those, especially extremist religious figures, who harass and censor reporters there for national newspapers.
“We and the TUJ call for an immediate campaign to avoid more deaths of journalists, such as those in February 2005 of Amir Nawab Khan and Allah Noor Wazir, and the disappearance of Hayatullah Khan last December.” The two murdered journalists were caught in an ambush in South Waziristan tribal area after reporting on the surrender of a Taliban warlord. Those responsible have not been punished.
Afridi, correspondent of the daily papers Mashriq and The Statesman, and Shah, president of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) in the Khyber Agency (west of Peshawar), were threatened by the mufti in clandestine radio broadcasts on 24 February after they reported clashes between his supporters and those of rival mufti Pir Saifur Rehman for control of the Khyber Agency region. He urged his supporters not to believe “false stories” in the press and urged them to read papers such as the banned extremist paper Zarb-e-momin.
“Munir doesn’t like journalists talking about his rival Rehman,” said Afridi. Munir has reportedly declared papers mentioning Rehman as “enemies of Islam and the tribal nation.” Both journalists asked for government protection .
They told Reporters Without Borders they dared not return to their home town of Bara because Munir’s supporters might attack them. TUJ president Sailab Mehsud warned at a conference in Peshawar on 18 February that the situation in the tribal areas was “going from bad to worse.”