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Police confirm they are holding missing Baloch journalist in custody

(PPF/IFEX) - Media organisations, including the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), have expressed concern over the disappearance and later confirmed arrest of a journalist in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.

Rehmatullah Shaheen, a correspondent for the Baloch nationalist daily "Tawar", in the Tehsil of Mach (a Tehsil is a local administrative area), went missing on 8 December 2009 while he was travelling to the Quetta Electric Supply Company's Mach grid station, where he was also employed. On 14 December, following protest rallies held by journalists across Balochistan, the police acknowledged that the journalist had been arrested. Shaheen is also the press secretary for the Shaheed Khalil Samalaini Press Club in Mach.

Bolan District Police Officer (DPO) Junaid Arshad confirmed that the missing journalist was in police custody. Police said that he was arrested under the Explosives Act as a hand grenade was found at his residence following a search based on information disclosed by Shaheen while in custody. The police also arrested Shaheen's brother, Mohammad Ali, his cousin, Muhammad Hassan, and a guest, Jan Muhammad, but they were released after being interrogated.

According to a press report, Shaheen had earlier informed a friend that the area police chief had summoned him. His family contacted the police when he did not return home, but the police said they did not know his whereabouts.

Abdul Khaliq, the president of the BUJ, told PPF that Shaheen appeared in the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on 17 December, which allowed the police to keep him in remand for five days.

The CPNE strongly condemned the arrest and harassment of journalists by law enforcement and security agencies.

The PFUJ expressed concern over the increasing frequency of harassment of media personnel in Balochistan. The PFUJ also took strong exception to allegations that dissenting journalists are involved in sedition and terrorism activities and called on the Pakistani prime minister to ensure the safety, honour and dignity of journalists in Balochistan. Finally, the PFUJ also demanded that those responsible for harassing media personnel be taken to task.

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