Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage at the murder today in the Swat valley of a journalist whose dead body was found shortly after he covered a “peace march” related to an agreement biding the authorities to implement Sharia law there.
On the same day a score of armed and masked men blew up the press club in Wana, capital of the South Waziristan tribal area, completely destroying the building. In two other recent incidents, a journalist received death threats and a television reporter was briefly abducted after interviewing a Taliban spokesman.
The body of Musa Khankhel, aged 28, a reporter in the Swat valley for Geo News and the newspaper The News was found a few hours after he was snatched during a “peace march” near Matta by supporters of the pro-Taliban cleric, Maulan Sufi Muhammad, one of his colleagues confirmed to Reporters Without Borders. He was shot dead and they tried to behead his body. There was no claim of responsibility.
“We want to express our full solidarity with journalists in the tribal areas, who are once again the target of attacks and threats from extremely violent and determined groups”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Journalists in these regions who are victims of this war should also get the support of the authorities and the international community. Without that, these regions bordering Afghanistan are at risk of becoming news ‘black holes’”, it added.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called a day of protest tomorrow while its secretary general said it was “appalling that a journalist should be the first casualty” when a peace agreement had just been signed between Sufi Muhammad and the local government.
President of the destroyed press club, Hafiz Wazir, told Reporters Without Borders, “It was an attack against press freedom, but that will not prevent journalists in the tribal areas from continuing to inform people (...) the explosion was so strong that the town’s entire population was woken up”.
The men, who blew up the club overnight on 17-18 February by placing explosive charges all around it, told the night watchmen to leave before they activated the charge.
The two-storey building, constructed in 2007 with federal government funds, was completely destroyed. The Taliban commander, Malang, denied that his men were involved in the attack.
A member of the peace committee set up under the agreement between the Taliban and local tribes told Reporters Without Borders that they “would not let this incident go unpunished”. President of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), Sher Khan, called for the arrest of those who carried out the bombing and for better protection for the other press clubs in the tribal areas.
According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the army is occupying some press clubs in towns from which they are launching operations against the Taliban.
Most journalists fled the tribal area after 2005, when two Wana journalists were killed in an ambush at the entrance to the town.
Elsewhere, Ashfaq Bangash, a journalist on the Pashtu-language Khyber News channel, based in the Orakzai region, cousin of journalist Aamir Wakil, murdered on 24 January 2009, and of Kamal Asfar, who escaped a murder attempt on 1st February 2009, has been receiving death threats.
“The last call I had told me that my time had come. One of them told me to change my job and to grow a beard”, Ashfaq Bangash told Reporters Without Borders. “What has happened to me is a continuation of the threats against my family, because we are journalists. These threats are terrifying. I can’t stop these people coming after me. I call on the government to protect my family”, he said.
Other journalists in the Hangu district in the Orakzai tribal zone, mired in sectarian violence, also expressed their fears over the increasing threats.
Finally, journalist Noorul Hasan, of Royal TV in Peshawar, was abducted by masked men in Mingora in the Swat valley on the evening of 8 February and released in Islamabad the following morning, handcuffed and blindfolded. “They kidnapped me to ask me questions about my interview with the Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan. They asked where I had done the interview and why I was interviewing someone like him”, Noorul Hasan told his colleagues.
Several journalists in Mingora have complained that they get no protection from the authorities. President of the Khyber Union of Journalists (KUJ), Mohammad Riaz, told Reporters Without Borders of his anxiety over the upsurge in threats to journalists.