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RSF report finds minor improvement for press freedom after Taliban defeat

(RSF/IFEX) - Journalists have gradually returned to work in the northwestern Swat valley, where many of them were forced to go into exile or suspend operations in 2008 and 2009. "The situation has considerably changed from what it was some six months back," said Ghulam Farooq, the editor of the regional daily "Shamal". In Mingora, the capital of the Swat district, newspapers are functioning and the press club has reopened. The public can watch cable TV again and reporters can move about the valley without too much risk.

"I no longer carry a pistol with me and neither does my guard," Express News TV bureau chief Shireen Zada said. "Previously, I had to get home before sunset, but now I am in the bazaar or office until late at night. You can imagine how different the situation is now."

This strategic region north of Islamabad underwent a great deal of turmoil from 2007 to 2009. The Taliban and their local supporters waged an offensive that led the federal government to agree to the imposition of the Sharia in February 2009 and to grant broad powers to the fundamentalists. But then, in May 2009, the army launched Operation Rah-e-Rast (Right Path) with the aim of reasserting its authority. More than 2 million people, including most journalists, fled the region to escape the violent clashes.

After fierce fighting, the federal government regained control of the valley in September. Clashes continue and the Taliban have vowed to take revenge but life is gradually returning to normal. After months of curfew, journalists are again doing investigative reporting in the field and local newspapers that were closed for months are again being published.

A Reporters Without Borders representative visited the valley in December to investigate the press freedom situation after the defeat of the Taliban. This report aims to update the information published in April 2009 in "Swat, valley of fear".

Now that press freedom has risen again from the ashes in the Swat valley in the wake of the Taliban defeat, what kind of future can the local media hope to have? Do the Taliban, who have not left northwestern Pakistan, still pose a threat to reporters? Will the army, which the federal government has put in charge of the district, accept criticism?

This report also aims to alert the authorities to the fact that the crimes committed against journalists in the valley have still not been punished. One year after reporter Mosa Khankhel's murder on 18 February 2009 near Mingora, those responsible have yet to be identified. His brother told Reporters Without Borders that no official investigation is being carried out.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities and the international community to provide financial and material aid to the local media, which were deprived of income for months because of the fighting.

Read the full report:
rapport_en_swat2_md.pdf (254 KB)

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