Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today called on the authorities to protect two journalists who were briefly detained on 18 September in the Khyber Agency part of Pakistan’s Tribal Areas by an outlawed fundamentalist group, and who still feel threatened and concerned for their security.
Nasrullah Afridi and Aurangzeb Afridi, correspondents for the Peshawar-based, Urdu-language dailies Mashriq and Subah Morning were held in a private prison by the Organisation of the Unity of Ulemas (Tenzeem Ittehad-e-Ulema) for several hours before being released as a result of pressure from influential persons.
They were then summoned for a meeting with the organisation but did not attend. Thereafter, they have continued to receive threats warning them they should fear for their lives if "they don’t give up the idea of a free press in the Khyber Agency."
Reporters Without Borders urged North-West Frontier Province governor Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah, to do everything necessary to ensure their safety and called for an investigation into their arrest and detention by the private militia of an organisation that has been officially declared illegal.
"Journalists in the Tribal Areas work in difficult conditions due to the lack of laws guaranteeing press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to the government. "If they must also protect themselves from religious groups equipped with militias and private prisons, then all hope of independent news reporting in this strategic region is lost."
Nasrullah Afridi and Aurangzeb Afridi are respectively president and vice-president of the Tribal Union of Journalists in the Khyber Agency. When detained, they had just filed a report on the abduction of two persons from Lahore by Tenzeem Ittehad-e-Ulema.
In a previous report, Nasrullah Afridi had described Tenzeem Ittehad-e-Ulema as illegal group, recalling that it has been banned for the past five years. Nonetheless, it has an armed wing comprising 3,000 persons in the Tribal Areas and imposes it own law in the region. A 15 September report in the daily Ausaf Khadrian claimed that Tenzeem Ittehad-e-Ulema was financed by money from contraband.