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Newspaper owner and writer Jan Muhammad Dashti injured in gunfire attack

(PPF/IFEX) - Jan Muhammad Dashti, poet, writer and proprietor and editor of the Urdu daily "Asaap", and his driver were seriously wounded on 23 February 2009 when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his vehicle in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province. The motive for the attack seems to be sectarian extremism.

According to police sources, Dashti, who is also a senior bureaucrat, was on his way to his office when the gunmen intercepted his vehicle and opened fire on him with an automatic weapon. He was rushed to the Civil Hospital in Quetta and then transferred to the Agha Khan Hospital in Karachi due to his serious injuries. He and his driver survived the attack and are now out of danger.

In a telephone call, a person who identified himself as Haider Jhangvi and as the spokesperson of the sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for the attack and accused Dashti of having published a book insulting the prophets and Jesus Christ. Excerpts from the book had been published in "Asaap". Jhangvi demanded that the government ban Dashti's book, otherwise religious elements would set fire to the newspaper office.

In addition to being the newspaper's owner, Dashti is a poet and the author of five books written in English and Balochi. The attempt on Dashti's life was widely condemned in Balochistan.

Soon after the incident, the Chief Minister of Balochistan, members of the Provincial Assembly, as well as other political leaders and members of civil society rushed to the hospital and strongly condemned the attack.

Dashti's supporters, activists of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal), closed Jinnah road and pelted vehicles breaking several car windows, which resulted in a massive traffic jam. BNP supporters also blocked the National Highway at various points between Quetta and Karachi. A strike was also observed in Wadh, Turbat and other towns in Balochistan, to protest the attack.

The president of the Quetta Press Club, Shehzada Zulfiqar, told PPF that they would observe a day of protest on 26 February to demand the immediate arrest of the assailants.

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