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Threats to journalists don't let up

(CPJ/IFEX) - 14 February 2012, by Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator - In the last few days, messages from two journalists in Pakistan have made me realize that I can't turn away from publicizing the threats they are facing, because they just keep coming.

The most recent is from Wajahat Khan, host of the political interview show "Ikhtilaf," on Aaj TV in Islamabad. His account of threats of "beheading, bestiality, torture, and other such comforts of wrath" as he wryly puts it, started coming while his most recent show was being re-aired on Saturday. On air he had been pushing Lt. Gen. Hameed Gul -- who works with the conservative Difa-e-Pakistan Council, a political bloc of conservative religious parties, some with links to militant groups -- when some viewers felt he had gone too far. I'm going to take the liberty of lifting two paragraphs from his story, about the start of the threats, but you should read Khan's full, riveting account on The Express Tribune's website, "Journalism under threat: Jihad, lies and video tape:".

"He didn't say hello. He knew my name and my address. He kept it short, and told me exactly what he would do to my body parts when he was done detaching them. He then hung up. That was caller one.

"But that was just the bad cop routine. The good cops, several of them, came knocking with a flurry of text messages. One of them started off by asking why I was siding with India. My reply was that I was not siding with any collective, and in fact had brought up the disturbing statistic of India's arms expenditures with Gul, asking the former ISI chief what he and the DPC were doing besides screaming murder about matching the $100 billion dollars that the Indians plan on weapons-procurement spending over the next decade. He pinged back after a few minutes, concentrating his grammar on the imaginings between my mother and some animals. The other good cops started in similar vein, one of them asking me whether I had learnt my English in America. Seeing where this could lead to, I didn't respond. That action further lit up my afternoon, as references to pre-Islamic debauchery, disasters and disease continued to flash on my phone. No names were offered, but when my address and location was confirmed, again and again, I pressed the panic button."

The other story came in a string of emails over the last few days from Ghulamuddin, Samaa TV's senior news producer. He, with his partner Mohammad Aatif Khan, on December 13 broke the story of boys and young men being held in chains at a religious school near Karachi, as seen on this YouTube video. Since their footage aired, they have come under near constant threat. I had blogged about it on December 27, in "'Where is the state?' asks Pakistani journalist under threat," and mentioned them a few other times when discussing other threat cases. I pointed out that while more prominent journalists get a lot of support, those less prominent do not. These two men and their wives and children are moving from place to place in Pakistan, seeking some sort of safe haven. Ghulamuddin sent what I have to call, without being overly dramatic, a Chronology of Intimidation that has continued up until now. CPJ and other media support groups inside and outside Pakistan are working to help them, but here is what the lives of two reporters who dared to break a story have been like since:

( . . . )

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