‘A bullet has been chosen for you’

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Islamabad: Being a journalist in Pakistan means to live under constant threat of retaliation and threats of harassment. Violence is rife against the media by almost all factors including political parties, armed forces, intelligence agencies and the terror groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Report by Amnesty International, A bullet has been chosen for you: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan, highlights how government authorities have failed, not only in safeguarding the lives of working journalists, but also to address major human rights abuses against them or bring the culprits committing such hideous actions to account. This has resulted in an open killing license to all those elements for who, working journalists have been a reason for disturbance, one way or the other.

Amnesty International documented at least 34 cases of journalists killed in the line of duty i.e. targeted in response to their work since 2008. Alarmingly, only one case has resulted in punishment to the perpetrators, while for the rest of the 33, justice has been nothing more than a faded dream.

David Griffiths, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, Amnesty International says, a very effective siege is visibly in practice in Pakistan, “The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another. Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting.”

Amnesty International’s report is a formation of extensive interviews with journalists who have recorded complains of harassments, attacks and deadly threats by personnel connected with Pakistan’s most feared spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The ISI has been repeatedly blamed for kidnapping, torture, harassment and killing of several journalists. The report emphasis that having so many cases pointing fingers towards the ISI, never has any of the spy agency officials been questioned or held to account, which has given them an open ground to operate and staying away and above the law.

The most recent case where the spy agency has been blamed is the deadly attack on Hamid Mir, a senior anchorperson of country’s top news channel Geo News, part of Jang group. Hamid Mir was shot 6 times by gunmen, who he believes, were ISI personnel, directed to conduct the attack by the ISI Chief. Hamid Mir also confirmed that he was given a clear threat by two officials of the ISI, whom he met at his house in Islamabad. Mir said they told him about a ‘hit list’ with Mir’s name in it and told him to be careful.

Mir notified about this particular meeting and visible threats to his close friends, family and his organization. The deadly attacks occurred a few days after this critical meeting, creating clear suspicion on the spy agency as being the main culprit behind the condemnable attack.

Similar suspicions were also mentioned by the slain journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, a well-known Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online and author of the book “Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban”. Shahzad also hinted a clear threat to his life in an email sent to Human Rights Watch. In the text he mentions a meeting at the ISI headquarters Islamabad between DG Media Wing ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir. Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, the Deputy Director-General of Media Wing ISI was also reportedly present during the conversation.

The Agenda of the meeting was to discuss Asia Times Online story ‘Pakistan frees Taliban commander’. On being questioned on the story, Syed Saleem Shahzad told Rear Admiral Adnan that an intelligence channel had leaked it, adding the information was confirmed by ‘the most credible Taliban source’. Syed then went on to say that Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir had the view that the story caused a lot of embarrassment for the country, but also observed that a denial from the government was no solution. He suggested Syed Saleem Shahzad should write a denial of the story which Syed refused to comply with terming it impractical.

Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir then gave Syed a “favour” in the following words, “”I must give you a favor. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know,”

Amnesty International’s report also highlights political and terror factors behind blatant human rights violation against journalists.  “Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political actors across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favorable coverage.”

Terror groups like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other important factions like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and many Baloch armed groups have given open threats to reporters and are targeted in retaliation for exposing their abuses or not promoting their ideology, the report reads.

This alarming increase in attacks and killings of journalists, still seems far from finding its rightful place in the government’s priority list, the report criticizes.

“Despite the wave of violence and attacks, the Pakistani authorities have largely failed to hold perpetrators to account.”