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Pakistan 24 February 2009

Baloch newspaper editor seriously injured in shooting attack

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by an attempt to murder editor and civil servant Jan Muhammad Dashti yesterday in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan. The owner and editor of the Quetta-based daily Asaap, Dashti was flown to Karachi for treatment after being shot in the head and arm. The attack has been claimed by a radical Sunni group.

“The current level of violence against Baloch journalists and news media is unacceptable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This shooting attack on a newspaper owner known for defending Baloch rights highlights the government’s inability to protect journalists. We call for an investigation and the arrest of those responsible for the attack.”

Two Baloch journalists have been killed and several news media have been attacked in Quetta since the start of 2008.

Yesterday’s attack on Dashti came as he was being driven to his office in Quetta. Gunmen blocked the vehicle’s path and opened fire, hitting Dashti in the head and an arm. He was later said to be in a stable condition in the Karachi hospital to which he was transferred. His driver was also wounded in the attack.

Known for supporting Baloch nationalism and opposing the province’s Islamisation, Dashti was fired as a civil servant by Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2000 but was subsequently reinstated by a court. The provincial government put him in charge of managing the province’s mines in 2008.

He launched Asaap in 2001 in order to defend Baloch rights. The newspaper has become very popular but has been subject to a federal government advertising boycott for the past five years.

Yesterday’s shooting was claimed by a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an armed Sunni groups that has accused Dashti of insulting the prophets Jesus Christ and Mary in a book he wrote, extracts of which were published in Asaap. Allegedly supported by elements in the Pakistani intelligence services, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has also threatened to attack the newspaper’s office if Dashti does not stop writing.

The Pakistani military has meanwhile threatened several journalists who recently wrote about the fate of Baloch women including Zarina Marri who have gone missing. The statements of several witnesses clearly indicate that they were kidnapped by members of the armed forces.

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