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IFJ and RSF call on president to protect journalists in NWFP

(IFJ/RSF/IFEX) - On 26 May 2009, IFJ and RSF wrote a joint letter to President Asif Ali Zardari asking him to intervene in the case of three journalists in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) who are wanted by the Taliban:

Honourable Mr Asif Ali Zardari
Islamic Republic of Pakistan

May 26, 2009

Dear President Zardari,

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) respectfully seek your urgent intervention to ensure the protection of three senior journalists in Peshawar, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), whose lives may be in immediate danger.

The IFJ and RSF are alarmed to learn that several senior journalists based in Peshawar and NWFP have been named on a "hit list" by individuals grouped under the banner of Taliban. The list reportedly names Sohail Qalandar, resident editor of the Daily Express and vice-president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), an IFJ affiliate; Iqbal Khattak, bureau chief of The Daily Times; and Peshawar Press Club president Shamim Shahid, bureau chief of The Nation; as well as several other journalists.

We received information about threats against these three journalists following the posting of a pamphlet outside media offices in Mingora on 28 April 2009 warning that journalists would be punished under Sharia law if they were perceived to report negatively about militant groups.

The three named journalists are well-known in their communities and internationally for their commitment to their work, even as they risk grave threats to the safety of themselves and their families. The IFJ and RSF are extremely concerned that their lives may be in danger.

We respectfully request that you exert your authority as President of Pakistan to take urgent action to condemn any suggestion or threat of attacks against these three men and other media personnel in Pakistan, and make clear your concerns for their safety.

We further request that you direct your government, its offices and provincial authorities in NWFP to take all necessary action to ensure the security of these three men and all media personnel in NWFP and other areas of conflict in Pakistan.

The IFJ and RSF remind the Government of Pakistan of its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and to the 1997 Additional Protocol on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) to ensure the protection of journalists as civilians. Article 13 of Protocol II states: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence, the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population, are prohibited."

In addition, we draw your attention to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738, which was adopted in 2006 and explicitly stresses the civilian status of journalists reporting in war zones and crisis areas within national borders. The resolution stipulates: " . . . that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel."

Therefore, international law emphasizes the responsibility of Pakistan's Government to remedy the threats made against our three above mentioned colleagues, as individual journalists and as civilians who are conducting their work in an environment of non-international armed conflict.

The role of Pakistan's journalists and media workers is more important than ever in gathering and conveying impartial and accurate information about the conflict and the humanitarian crisis in NWFP. It is imperative that journalists and media workers are able to conduct their important work with the maximum protection and provision of safety measures available.

You will be aware that Pakistan has gained an unenviable reputation as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and media workers. Twelve journalists and media workers have been killed in Pakistan since the beginning of 2008. Very many others have been - and continue to be - assaulted and threatened in an effort to silence reporting on matters of national and international significance.

The IFJ and RSF understand that scare tactics such as hit lists are commonly used by militant groups in various districts of Pakistan in an effort to block or distort media coverage of their activities. The risk of serious harm for the named journalists is very real and authorities must take action to address these threats.

Additionally, more than 100 journalists and their families are among the thousands of people who have fled areas around Swat to Peshawar and surrounding towns in recent days. The absence of media personnel in the conflict zone, and the extreme difficulties in gathering information from the region, are a matter of international concern and pose serious ramifications for the thousands of internally displaced who are now struggling to access emergency relief.

Again, we respectfully request that you use your authority as President to act on the grave concerns held by the IFJ and RSF for the welfare of our colleagues in Pakistan, including Iqbal Khattak, Shamim Shahid, and Sohail Qalandar, in the spirit of serving the best interests of all people in Pakistan.

Yours respectfully,
Aidan White
General Secretary
International Federation of Journalists

Jean-François Julliard
General Secretary
Reporters Without Borders

International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders

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