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Journalist arrested, threatened by police in Quetta

(PPF/IFEX) - 15 June 2011 - Jamal Tarakai, 36, a Quetta-based photojournalist working for various media organizations, was arrested, beaten and abused by police in Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province, on the morning of 14 June 2011. Tarakai had filmed the first video of security forces firing on five Chechens, including three women, in Quetta's Kharotabad neighbourhood, on 17 May.

Tarakai told Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) that he was headed to the Quetta Press Club when policemen on two motorbikes followed him for up to 2 kilometers and stopped him near Kharotabad Police Station. They took him to the police station, where he explained that he was a journalist and was carrying out his professional duties. A policeman threw his identity card on the floor. When Tarakai objected to this, the police officers started beating him. The journalist, who suffered bruises on his body, said that he made some calls to other journalists to inform them that he had been arrested. His colleagues arrived at the station and were able to have him released after an hour.

According to Tarakai, he had been receiving threatening calls on his cell phone since the Kharotabad incident. A few days prior to his arrest, he had received a threat from an unknown man who called the Quetta Press Club and told the club's Vice President, Yaqoob Shahwani, that Tarakai had committed a big mistake by handing over the films and photographs of the incident involving the Chechens to a tribunal. The journalist said he was feeling unsafe because of the police's behaviour.

The President of the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), Issa Tareen, said in a statement that Tarakai was receiving threats, but the BUJ had not taken any action because the matter was pending before the tribunal. He added, however, that the 14 June arrest of Tarakai proved that police were behind the threatening calls.

Tarakai is working as a reporter for the "Nazim News" daily, and as a photojournalist and cartoonist for Independent News Pakistan (INP), "Awam" daily, "Dunya" daily, "Public" daily, and "Balochistan News" daily.


BACKGROUND:

PPF notes that Tarakai has presented evidence that negates the claims of Frontier Constabulary (FC) and police officials that the foreigners they brutally gunned down were on a suicide mission. The journalist has given the tribunal footage of the incident that shows one of the three women raising her hands three times, presumably appealing the FC and police to stop firing. The video was telecast by a number of TV channels after Tarakai presented it to the tribunal. The FC and the police have not contradicted the events shown in the video. The photojournalist also told the tribunal that the foreigners were unarmed.

In addition, police surgeon Dr. Baqir Shah, who had performed a post-mortem of the bodies of the foreigners and provided facts to the tribunal, was dragged out of his car outside a hotel and thrashed by policemen. He was admitted to hospital as he suffered severe wounds to his head.

The inspector-general of Balochistan police has suspended two senior police officers and two constables in connection with the alleged harassment of Tarakai and Dr. Shah.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has condemned the arrest and threats received by the photojournalist. In a statement, PFUJ Secretary-General Amin Yousuf said the government should take the necessary steps to protect the journalist and provide security to all journalists who are under serious threat. The PFUJ will continue to raise its voice in support of the journalists' community and will not rest until the protection of journalists is guaranteed.

On 14 June, the Pakistan Senate expressed anger over the violation of a ruling by the Chairman of the Upper House regarding the provision of protection to journalists in Quetta who filmed footage of the Kharotabad incident. A Special Senate Committee headed by Minister for Law and Justice Maula Baksh Chandio was formed after journalists staged a walkout from the press gallery in protest against the attack on Tarakai.

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