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Journalists flee Swat valley en masse

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the situation in the Swat valley as the Pakistani armed forces step up their operations against the Taliban there. Newspapers had already stopped publishing after the military imposed a curfew. Now journalists are fleeing to safer areas. On 12 May 2009, the Khyber Union of Journalists urged the government to allow the media access to Mingora, the largest city in the valley.

"It is now impossible to get independently-sourced information about what is happening in the Swat valley," Reporters Without Borders said. "Journalists are fleeing en masse. None of them wants to stay there anymore. We urge the authorities to issue journalists with permits that allow them to circulate during curfew hours. We also call for immediate measures to guarantee the security of journalists, so that they can return to the valley and resume working there."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The Swat valley has become a lawless area without news media and without journalists. This situation is unacceptable and must be remedied by the government at once."

At a news conference today, Khyber Union of Journalists president Mohammad Riaz said: "There is a complete blackout of news from Swat, Buner and Dir. There is no source of dissemination of news. No one is aware about the actual situation."

Swat press club president Salahuddin Khan told Reporters Without Borders on 10 May that all the journalists had left the valley and that it was "now without any news media."

Veteran journalists such as Ghulam Farroq, the editor of "Shamal", and Fayyaz Zafar, the editor of the online newspaper Zama Swat, left Swat on 7 May and moved to cities such as Peshawar. "I have just left with my family and I am staying with a friend a long way from Mingora as journalism is no longer an easy trade to practice," Farroq told Reporters Without Borders by phone.

A few journalists such as TV reporter Shireezada had been holding on despite the danger. He told Reporters Without Borders a few days ago: "Let's hope nothing serious happens." He said he had stockpiled fuel and food for the difficult days to come. He was the last reporter to try to provide information about what was happening in the combat zone.

Shireezada finally pulled out for safety reasons yesterday. "I have also left Swat with my family because it is extremely hard to be a journalist in the current situation," he said. "Swat is now without any journalists."

Shireezada said there were still several thousand inhabitants trapped in Mingora waiting for the end of the curfew in order to leave for safer areas. He added that they would soon run out of water and food because of the lack of electricity and the curfew.

Updates the news media situation in Swat Valley: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/102922

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