PAKISTANI journalists have scarcely seen a bloodier six weeks than those since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured a visiting delegation from the international Committee to Protect Journalists that he would do all he could to safeguard local reporters.
Nine days after that March 19 meeting — at which Mr Sharif also promised to devote more resources to prosecuting assaults — one of the country’s most liberal voices, columnist, editor and TV host Raza Rumi, was attacked by gunmen in Lahore.
Though he escaped with minor injuries, his driver was killed and a security guard was left paralysed by his injuries.
Rumi has since left the country and told The Australian yesterday he was unwilling to return while his presence posed a threat to himself and those close to him.
“I cannot let anyone else die on my account,” he said, adding he did not know whether his attackers would ever be brought to justice.
Less than a fortnight ago, prominent Geo TV talk show anchor Hamid Mir was attacked by a group of “unknown gunmen” as he was driven out of Karachi airport. He was shot six times and is still in hospital.
Between those two headline attacks have been others: hand grenades lobbed at the house of a Peshawar-based journalist, and an attempted bombing of the house of another journalist.
An Amnesty International report released yesterday notes the Pakistani journalists’ dilemma: “Appeasing one perpetrator to avoid the risk of abuse almost inevitably increases the risk of abuse from others.”
It says Pakistani authorities have “almost completely failed” to protect journalists, highlighting 34 cases in which it believes journalists were murdered since 2008, six since Mr Sharif came to office. In only one case has a perpetrator been prosecuted.
“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,” says Amnesty’s deputy Asia-Pacific director, David Griffiths.
Mr Griffiths urged the government to show a greater willingness to investigate the military and intelligence agencies — which Amnesty claims are a key threat to reporters, alongside Tehrik-e-Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and armed ethnic Baloch militants, as well as political parties such as Karachi’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
In May 2011, the tortured body of Asia Times investigative reporter Saleem Shahzad was found dumped in a canal near Islamabad after he was abducted by presumed ISI agents. Before his murder he claimed to have received death threats from a senior agency official.
Mir also feared the ISI was trying to kill him. Since his attack, his brother has alleged the attack was agency retribution for Mir’s reporting of human rights abuses during military operations.
The military has responded to those allegations by threatening to shut down GEO TV, though Mr Sharif this week ruled out such action.