Three weeks ago I received a mailed letter, which seemed odd as most communication these days takes place via the internet, the easiest though not the safest since Edward Snowden exposed the scope and depth of surveillance that the US National Security Agency (NSA) carries out. Mailed letters are not very private either. Muhammad Ali Khalid, Founder, Chairman of the Karachi-based South Asian Journalists Protection Committee (SAJPC) wrote it. We had met last year at the wedding of the son of journalist Zaheer Ahmed, editor Tahreer aur Tasweer, Hyderabad. This was our first meeting but he had known my father late Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur well and read some of my articles. During the conversation he had disclosed that his son-in-law. Muhammad Faisal Jan, had been killed because he (Mr Khalid) frequently raised the issue of the establishment-perpetrated atrocities in Balochistan. He had also said that he was under threat because he raised voice about the atrocities and injustices in Balochistan and Sindh and had formed the SAJPC to protect the rights and lives of journalists. Mr Khalid is a poet too and Khalid his nom de plume.
The letter mentioned our meeting in Hyderabad and was interspersed with fine Urdu and Persian couplets. Stapled to it was an appeal to the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court. It said that on the second of Ramzan at 12:30 pm on Friday, July 12 this year, three persons with sophisticated weapons entered his house and held him and his family hostage. They were in communication with some people outside most of the time, took away valuables and threatened him and his family. In his appeal to the CJ he asks that this be considered his FIR and asks for justice in the name of justice. He also says during the elections he was not allowed to cast his vote and believes that a ‘Gestapo’ now rules the country.
This appeal has been cc’d to, among others, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and numerous other international human rights and journalists’ rights organisations and also to ministers and officials here. His appeal has remained unheard and his tragedy remains unreported. Here justice is politically and socially biased and selective; all depends on who or which cause becomes the media favourite. The suo motu power too is selective; two bottles of liquor may prompt one but killings of hundreds leave the luminaries quite unperturbed. Mr Khalid is paying the price for his inner moral convictions, which make him raise his voice for the oppressed.
In 2011, Vienna-based press watchdog International Press Institute reported that a total of 103 journalists were killed. Mexico was the most dangerous with 10 deaths and Pakistan the fourth most dangerous place with six deaths of journalists. In 2012, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) placed Pakistan at number 10 on its ‘Impunity Index’, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free. There were 19 unsolved murders of journalists. In this index, threats and roughing up are not registered. The CPJ report said that deadly, unpunished violence against the press rose sharply in Pakistan and Mexico, continuing a dark, years-long trend in both nations. Journalists in Pakistan have been under the wrath of the establishment and journalists from Balochistan most frequently become victims. Only last month the badly mutilated body of Haji Abdul Razzaq Baloch, a sub-editor of Tawar, an outspoken Balochi newspaper, who had gone missing on March 24, 2013, was found.
In July 2012 the Centre for Research and Security Studies had organised a workshop, ‘Media and Civil Society in Balochistan’ in Quetta. According to figures presented there, at least 22 journalists have been killed in Balochistan since 2008. The workshop was informed that the media in Balochistan was not safe and journalists on professional duty often faced harassment at the hands of influential elements and different pressure groups active there. It needs to be emphasised that an overwhelming majority of the killed journalists were those belonging to pro-nationalist newspapers or those who had sympathy for the nationalists. Many were abducted by intelligence and security agencies in front of witnesses but no one has ever been charged.
In 2009, the Frontier Corps (FC) laid siege to three newspaper offices in Quetta — Daily Asaap, Azadi and Balochistan Express. Asaap’s owner-publisher, Jan Muhammad Dashti, was repeatedly threatened but he refused to be cowed. Consequently, the FC personnel were threateningly posted on the street outside the newspaper’s offices, eventually forcing Asaap to stop publication. On February 24, 2009, when Dashti was on his way to office, unknown gunmen intercepted his vehicle near Sariab Road, Quetta and opened indiscriminate fire; he and his driver were seriously wounded, but luckily Dashti survived. Unfortunately, not many have been as lucky as him.
Lala Hameed Baloch worked for Daily Intikhab; on November 18, 2010, his bullet-riddled body was found outside Turbat. He had disappeared on October 25 while travelling to his home in Gwadar; local journalists said he was seized by the Pakistani security officials. He was an active supporter of the Baloch National Movement, a political organisation advocating an autonomous Balochistan. Javed Naseer Rind, an editor and columnist with the Urdu-language Daily Tawar, was kidnapped in his hometown of Hub in southern Balochistan on September 11. In 2011, his body was found in Khuzdar on November 5. He had been shot multiple times in the head and chest and his body showed signs of severe torture.
It is not possible to detail all those who have suffered at the hands of the establishment in Balochistan. Other places too are not exempt, the Saleem Shahzad and Wali Babar cases being well known. This Friday on September 6, a Karachi-based journalist and a friend of mine, Ali Kamran Chisti, was abducted and tortured but later released.
Last week my op-ed, “Carpetbaggers Inc” (Daily Times, September 1, 2013) dealt with how predatory big business with the support of equally predatory politicians and the establishment are looting and making plans to loot more resources of Balochistan now in connivance with China. Abbas Nasir Sahib, the former editor of the national daily Dawn, said it all in a tweet: “The erudite @mmatalpur on the corporate vultures drooling over Balochistan’s resources.” (Courtesy: Daily Times)
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He tweets at mmatalpur and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org