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Asia

Pakistan is the most dangerous country for journalists

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said that 11 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in 2010, making it the deadliest country for journalists this year.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud talking to journalists in 2008

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud talking to journalists in 2008

2010 has been by far the deadliest year for Pakistani journalists. With a slight variation in figures, most media rights groups have declared Pakistan the most dangerous country for media workers in the world. According to Reporters Without Borders, journalists in Pakistan continued to be targeted by Islamist groups, or they became the collateral victims of suicide bombings.

Conflict zones

Pakistan's lawless tribal areas are the deadliest region for journalists

Pakistan's lawless tribal areas are the deadliest region for journalists

Most of the casualties in Pakistan have taken place in the restive northwestern Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the Pakistani government is engaged in a protracted war against the Islamist militants. The Baluchistan province of Pakistan is also witnessing a widespread insurgency, where journalists fall victim to the armed separatist militias, but also face threats by the government forces.

Shamsul Islam, general secretary of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) puts the figure even higher than the 11 reported by Reporters Without Borders, "In the current year, 16 journalists have lost their lives as a result of target killings, bomb blasts, and suicide attacks. The working conditions are not conducive for journalists working in conflict zones such as Baluchistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and FATA."

Victims of both state and non-state actors

The US-led war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan's northwest has exposed Pakistan's media personnel, in particular the field reporters, to a daunting professional task as well as serious risks to their lives. However, the Islamist militants are not the only ones behind the killings of journalists; Pakistani media observers and journalists' unions also hold the government spy agencies such as the ISI responsible for the deaths.

They also complain about the continued harassment of journalists by government officials. Mostly, these are the low-profile media workers, working as field reporters or cameramen, and they do not come to the fore. However, there have been some more prominent cases as well.

State officials also harass media workers

State officials also harass media workers

"In Islamabad, Omar Cheema, a journalist working for The News, claimed that he had been picked up by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) personnel, and was severely beaten and humiliated by them," said Shamsul Islam.

But Ashfaq Salim Mirza, director of the South Asia Media Commission in Islamabad, believes things have slightly improved under the democratic government.

"It is not as bad as it was under the military dictatorship (of General Pervez Musharraf). Now, the government is more tolerant. But still there are certain agencies and groups who harass journalists, and at times arrest them. After they are released, some of them speak up, while some remain silent," said Mirza.

On the other hand, Taliban militants also do not tolerate independent journalists or suspect them to be government spies. The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported about targeted killings of Pakistani journalists by the Islamist guerrillas.

Inadequate security for journalists

Pakistani journalists have often protested against the lack of security.

"The main responsibility of the protection of journalists lies with the media owners. They are supposed to provide training to their employees to enable them to work in a war-like situation. They (journalists) also have no life insurance. As far as the government is concerned, it simply tells the journalists not to go into the dangerous areas. On the other hand, the media owners force them to report the incidents live from these areas," said PFUJ secretary general Shamsul Islam.

The Pakistani media have achieved a remarkable degree of freedom in the last decade. Most journalists attribute this to their long and hard struggle for their rights. However, it seems that the perils for the Pakistani journalists have also increased with the newly-won freedom.

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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