In Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, journalists have been under deadly assault since 2008, with dozens losing their lives. Traditionally, journalists were targeted mainly in interior Balochistan, but the danger zone has now expanded to the provincial capital of Quetta. A case in point is the recent killing of senior journalist Irshad Mastoi, his trainee reporter Abdul Rasool Khajak, and accountant Mohammad Younus in their office in Quetta’s Jinnah Road area.
To date, no one has claimed responsibility for the killings.
The recent killings have created widespread fear among journalists working in Balochistan. Meant to serve as a “voice” for persecuted people, journalists have now resorted to demonstrating in front of the Quetta Press Club. They have also been rallying on roads, chanting slogans against the provincial government for failing to provide security.
“In Balochistan, journalists are ruthlessly threatened by state and non-state actors,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, a veteran journalist based in Quetta. He added, “There is no journalism in Balochistan. Both the state and non-state actors want to take over the media.”
The Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) claims that 41 journalists have been targeted in Balochistan in different incidents. According to the union, “Balochistan has become a cemetery for journalists, who perform their journalistic duties honestly and bravely.”
Balochistan’s journalist community recently staged a sit-in protest in front of the provincial assembly, but it was ended when the Chief Minister Dr. Adbul Malik Baloch assured journalists of their safety and announced a judicial inquiry into the killings. Raza-ur-Rehman, president of the Quetta Press Club, remained doubtful, however. “Though the Chief Minister announced the judicial inquiry, it is not formed yet,” he said. “Again, we have been separated from a colleague (Irshad Mastoi) of ours.”
Journalists are now working in constant fear for their lives when reporting anything about Balochistan’s troubles. The picture is worse for those working in rural areas, with many districts where journalists cannot report independently.
“Our voices are unheard in mainstream national media, and we (journalists) when faced (with) threats don’t get them published,” complained a local stringer, who requested anonymity.
The government has kept silent over the assaults. “The provincial government of Balochistan has so far neither brought to book the perpetrators nor provided security,” said Naseem Hamid, the vice president of the BUJ. He lamented that journalist killings would not stop due to government disinterest and incompetence.
Added Saleem Shahid, the bureau chief of a leading daily English newspaper, “Those journalists in Balochistan, who have written and reported about injustices, have themselves become news.”
According to the 2014 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 44 journalists have been killed in Pakistan in the past decade. Pakistan ranks 9th in the CPJ’s 2014 impunity index, which has also termed Pakistan one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 11 journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013.
In April, 2014, Mumtaz Alam was killed by unknown assailants when he was on his way from Kharan to his home district Besima. One of his journalist friends spoke to The Diplomat about the incident. “Mumtaz worked alone as a reporter from his Washuk District, because his fellow journalists had quit journalism after the killing of Abdul Qadir Hajizai, who was a stringer there.”
However, government authorities say that Mumtaz Alam was targeted by dacoits (bandits) as he was with Levies (law enforcement) personnel, taking teachers’ salaries to Washuk from Kharan because he was also a teacher at a government school.
In February 2014, Mohammad Afzal Khawaja, a reporter for The Balochistan Times and its sister publication Zamana, was shot to death along with his driver. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the killing and accused the police of involvement.
Balochistan’s veteran journalists also say that all this is having a chilling effect on the younger generation. They believe that the recent killings, particularly of Abdul Rasool Khajak who was a student at the Media and Journalism Department of the University of Balochistan, have caused panic among journalism students, placing the future of journalism in the province in even greater jeopardy.