Pakistan is the most dangerous country for reporters, and its government may be the problem, not the solution
The killing of Pakistani reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad is spurring both the country’s embattered community of journalists and international press organizations into action.
Last week, local reporters launched a 24-hour sit-in outside Pakistan’s parliament building amid accusations that the country’s intelligence agency, the ISI, played a role in the violence against the press and in Shahzad's fatal beating.
“We will keep protesting until the killers are brought to justice” Hamid Mir, a Pakistani news anchor, told NPR’s “Morning Edition” this week.
Pakistan has become an increasingly perilous country for both foreign and local journalists. The 44 reporters who died in Pakistan last year rank the country as the most dangerous for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Before his body was found along a canal bank outside of Islamabad, Shahzad had reported that Pakistani officials had discovered Al Qaeda cells comprised of navy officers. Shahzad previously worked as the Pakistan Bureau Chief of Asia Times Online (Hong Kong) and Italian news agency Adnkronos. Though many suspect them of playing a role in Shahzad’s death, the ISI is reportedly investigating his killing.
It’s not just Shahzad’s death that is rousing journalists to action. His killing was followed less than a month later by the assault of journalist Waqar Kiani. Kiani said that he was beaten by men in police uniforms, days after he published an account of being abducted and tortured by intelligence officers in 2008.
Outside of Pakistan, publications such as the Guardian have asked Pakistan’s government to launch investigations into the violence against Kiani.
But some press organizations are arguing that the media business must take matters into its own hands. The CPJ, for instance, argues that organizations should band together to create locally based watchdog groups in the country, that would boast hotlines to the Pakistani police in order to curb the kidnappings.
“With its vibrant and financially successful media culture, this should be a Pakistani initiative,” Bob Dietz, coordinator of CPJ’s Asia Program, told TheWrap. “Media houses should lend manpower and financial support. Of course, NGOs have helped in other countries and, though working with international groups on this initiative might seem cumbersome, an alert system to protect journalists that reaches across borders can be helpful, too.”
Even without such safety nets in place, reporters such as Kiani are wary of accepting government protections — believing that Pakistan’s police apparatus may rank as the biggest threat of all.
“I can’t trust those guards,” Kiani told NPR.
“If something happens to me tomorrow, who will suffer? Only my family. My wife and my children,” Kiani added.