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Pakistani journalists face threats from Islamists

Religious extremists and security forces continue to intimidate progressive journalists in Pakistan. In a recent incident, a Karachi-based journalist was beaten by fanatics for listening to music in his house.

A few days ago, Zainul Abedin, who works at Pakistan's English-language The News daily, was dragged out of his house in the middle of the night and beaten up by four bearded men.

Then he was warned that if he watched TV in his house and listened to music, he would be killed. Abedin went to the police station to report the incident, but was met with resistance.

This all happened in the heart of Karachi - a relatively liberal city with a population of more than 15 million - and not in one of the restive, semi-governed northwestern tribal areas of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, left, with his band

Some extremist Wahabi groups consider 'qawwali' anti-Islamic and a Hindu tradition

"As they (the fanatics) delivered more kicks, slaps and blows, they kept saying: ‘We will not let you go unless you repent,'" Abedin wrote in an email that he sent to the city's journalists' unions.

"They went away shouting abuse and threats such as: 'Next time it will be worse. Do not turn on your TV and no songs and qawwalis (mystical songs) here. You will not live if it happens again. You and this house will be no more. We will not break the windows, we will shoot you, kill you.'"


Commenting on the harassment of Abedin, Dr. Riaz Ahmed, a political activist and professor at Karachi University, told DW that it was not merely about music and TV but was an organized attempt by the Islamists to intimidate journalists.

Ahmed also criticized security agencies for compromising with Pakistan’s right-wing groups. He pointed out that Pakistani authorities had not taken any notice of the incident for several days.

"The message being conveyed by the authorities to journalists like Abedin is: 'If the mullahs beat you up, you should not protest," he said, adding that commercial interests of the security agencies and religious groups were closely linked.

Supporters of Pakistan Defense Council, a coalition of Islamic parties, stage an anti-US rally in Quetta

Pakistani journalists feel even more insecure in conflict areas

Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior journalist at the Jang Group of Publication, which also owns The News, told DW that Pakistani journalists had to work under very difficult circumstances.

"Many journalists feel scared and threatened. Pakistani politics has been criminalized. It has become very difficult for journalists to perform their tasks freely," he said, adding that journalists' unions should ensure that the rights and lives of people working in the media were protected.

Ahmed's point of view was that the journalists' unions were either intimidated themselves or too corrupt to stand up against the media owners.


Observers say that progressive sections of Pakistani society are being systematically intimidated by Islamists. Pakistan's liberals are extremely worried about the growing influence of right-wing groups in their country, and they feel that their freedom is at risk in the Islamic Republic.

Pakistani rights activists also complain that the Islamists enjoy state patronage, whereas liberal and progressive voices often have to face the wrath of the country's security agencies.

They say that if a progressive journalist working for a big newspaper such as The News is unsafe in Karachi, then the risks faced by journalists in the conflict zones of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the western Balochistan provinces are easily imaginable.


Slain Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad

Journalist Saleem Shahzad was kidnapped and murdered last year

A 2012 UNESCO report ranks Pakistan "the second most dangerous country for journalists the world over" after Mexico. According to the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), 17 journalists were killed in South Asia in 2011, 12 of them in Pakistan.

Terrorism and Islamism are the most dangerous issues for Pakistani journalists to report on, SAFMA said.

Nasir Tufail of Geo TV told DW that the local and foreign media rely on only a few journalists for information about the restive northwestern tribal areas.

“Most journalists can’t even enter these areas,” he said. "Therefore, it's impossible to get reliable news about the Taliban and the 'war on terror.'"

He added that most journalists would not even think of venturing into "most parts of Balochisan, where the military is operating against separatists. How can you expect independent reporting?"

Imtiaz Alam, the secretary general of SAFMA, blamed both state and non-state elements for the situation. "So many journalists in Pakistan have been killed. Yet nobody has ever been brought to justice for their murders."

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