Journalists in Punjab are mostly threatened, harassed and killed by influentials who are annoyed by exposition of their wrongdoings. A quick glance at the incidents of journalists’ murders in Punjab shows most of them were district/tehsil correspondents of media organisations who had tried to expose influential politicians, criminals, gangsters etc.
Nadeem Haider, a journalist affiliated with Daily Dunya, was killed over an old enmity on October 3, 2014 in Kaliki Mandi area of Hafizabad. “The killers were unknown,” says Altaf Hussain, brother of the slain journalist. However, he nominated Zulfiqar Ali as killer of his brother on the recommendation of police. After some days the Crime Data Record (CDR) of the accused was checked and he was proved innocent. The complainant withdrew the case. As interrogation continued, some phone calls were traced. It was revealed that the killers were some relatives from their village and this death was also due to the enmity that had so far taken 20 lives.
Altaf says he does not have enough money to pursue the case and neither does he want to be killed like his brother. The employer of Nadeem did not play any role in pursuance of the case. Though the death is attributed to an old enmity, his colleagues and friends believe he was targeted because of his influence as a journalist.
Amir Suhail, Senior Vice President (SVP), Punjab Union of Journalists (PUJ), Barna Group, says such incidents have always been a matter of concern and journalist bodies are trying to plug the loopholes in the system. He says the government of Punjab has formed a media committee envisaged under the National Action Plan (NAP) with the purpose to discuss the role of media in implementing NAP at provincial level and come up with suggestions on how to achieve this end. At the same time, he says, the committee takes up matters related to security of journalists.
Amir is a member of the committee that has representatives from police, security agencies and media industry. He says, “The committee has to meet under secretary or additional secretary information on a regular basis, but unfortunately there have been only two sessions since its formation. This forum can be very useful in following up the cases of journalists’ murders on a priority basis provided it is taken up seriously by the government.” Theoretically, the information secretary is the head of the committee but this role has been assumed by the additional secretary.
Sharing his experience, Amir says district correspondents are at high risk of assaults and murders and they are the first ones to be disowned by their organisations. “It is quite common for media organisations, mostly the smaller ones, to have multiple local correspondents at one place and all without proper accreditation. This is done to create a competition among them to generate more advertising business rather than come up with exclusive news.”
He suggests there shall be a policy that should force media organisations to follow the norms and rules while hiring a journalist. “Such measures are needed in remote areas the most because the journalists in these areas are the most neglected. Journalist unions focus more on urban centres. Monetary compensation and support for heirs are also missing,” he adds.
The aspect of monetary compensation highlighted by Amir cannot be ignored. In most of the cases, the immediate family becomes helpless after the murder of a journalist. The family of Abdur Razzak Johra, a reporter of Royal TV, is living a miserable life due to this reason. He was reportedly killed by a criminal/drug peddler on November 3, 2008, in Mianwali. He had filed many stories on their crimes which were aired by Royal TV. His brother Taj Johra tells this scribe that the killer of the slain reporter was arrested and presented before the court. The court awarded him death sentence which was later converted into imprisonment. The culprit has applied for release on parole and it is quite possible that the request will be approved.
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An official from Home Department, on the condition of anonymity, said that Home Department encourages the prisoners who apply for parole and probation. He said parole is granted only once a convict has finished a significant part of his imprisonment, exhibited good behaviour and fulfilled certain requirements.
But in this whole episode, the family of the deceased has suffered the most. Both his sons Junaid Ali and Awais Ijaz Ali have discontinued their study due to poverty. Junaid has done his intermediate while Awais is a matriculate. Both the brothers are doing private jobs. The brother of the deceased complains Mianwali Press Club and Royal TV did not provide any financial assistance to the family.
During discussions with some journalists and journalist unions’ representatives, it was revealed that many people avoid sharing details about financial compensations or blood money received in such cases. They point out that by the time this help arrives (in rare cases), liabilities of heirs pile up and everybody comes out of nowhere to claim their dues. Similarly, the blood money in such cases also has many claimants mostly from within the extended family.
Of the many cases pursued by this scribe, the story of Bilal Sehar shows that blood money was received. He was a young journalist killed by one Adil Ibrar on March 3, 2017. Khadim Sehar, the father of Bilal Sehar lodged a FIR against the killer and his accomplices. The assailants were arrested on March 8, 2017 by Mankera Police. After ten days, two detainees Shani and Amir were released by the police because Adil Ibrar confessed murdering Bilal Sehar, shares Khadim Sehar, father of the slain journalist.
On March 28, 2017 a challan was submitted in the sessions court of Mankera. A few months later, the brother of Adil attacked Bilal’s brother. A FIR was registered against Khadim and his son who were pressurised by the family to sit together for a settlement. Khadim told this scribe that a Panchayat was managed by the local people who settled the dispute between the two parties. “The accused party paid Rs4.3 million as blood money to them,” he confirmed. The case was closed once the blood money was transferred.
In a rare move, the families of slain journalists have to follow the law enforcers. For example, Khalid Mahmood Butt, city reporter Daily Jahan Pakistan was killed in Sahiwal on November 26, 2016. His son Ali Raza, who was with him on the occasion and also got injured, shares that an FIR was registered against unknown people.
One year later, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) in Sahiwal told Ali Raza that they had arrested terrorists who had confessed killing his father on sectarian grounds. Later on, he says, these terrorists were killed in an encounter so he believed in the CTD claim and stopped pursuing the case. The case of Mian Abdul Razaq is quite similar to that of Khalid. He was a reporter of ARY News channel and was murdered by unknown people on May 17, 2017. An FIR was lodged against unknown criminals but no one was arrested. “After four or five days his alleged attackers were killed in a police encounter in Kasur,” says Saleem Ur Rehman, a correspondent of Jang in Kasur and a close friend of the slain journalist.
Aftab explains the phenomenon and shares that earlier the state would pursue cases but in Zia’s era SHOs were made responsible for cases in their jurisdiction and supposed to be complainants. There was a weeklong protest and not a single FIR was registered during this time. The way out they found was that it would be the responsibility of the complainants or heirs to stay actively involved in the whole process of proving the accused as guilty. The burden of proof practically lies with heirs.
He also suggests that unions at different levels need to revise their mandate which dates back to 1960s and give top priority to journalists’ safety. “At the moment the focus is primarily on job security, wages etc. The unions must pressurise owners to own their workers and pursue their cases.”
“After deaths/murders of reporters/journalists, employers don’t play any role in pursuance of cases,” says former secretary general PFUJ Mazhar Abbas. “This is true for developed world as well.” He cites the cases of Daniel Pearl and Jamal Khashoggi that progressed because they were taken up by their organisations — Wall Street Journal and Washington Post respectively. In Pakistan, the case of Wali Khan Babar could proceed because Geo television stood firm and pursued it.
He points out that many a time there is confusion about whether a journalist is murdered due to a personal enmity or his journalistic work. “This confusion must not result in abandonment of such cases because a murder has to be investigated in any case.”