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Attacks on the Press in 2002 - Pakistan

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2003
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2002 - Pakistan, February 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5667819.html [accessed 5 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Pakistani journalists have long navigated a treacherous course, threatened by militant groups, criminal gangs, political bosses, and powerful intelligence agencies, but the rest of the world scarcely noticed these dangers until the assassination of American reporter Daniel Pearl. Months after Pearl's murder, another journalist was killed in Pakistan: Shahid Soomro. Like Pearl, Soomro was killed in volatile Sindh Province, but he was the victim of local politicos angered by his reporting on their abuse of power.

Pearl, the South Asia bureau chief for the U.S.-based Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and killed in the port city of Karachi while reporting on links between Pakistani militant groups and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. In the days following Pearl's abduction, his captors sent e-mail messages containing photographs of the journalist, as well as a series of demands addressed to the U.S. government. The first message accused Pearl of being an American spy, while another sent days later branded him an agent of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. U.S. officials confirmed his brutal murder on February 21, after receiving a digital videotape documenting his beheading.

Many Pakistani journalists strongly condemned Pearl's kidnappers. Local press organizations issued statements in support of Pearl, and several newspapers published editorials calling for his safe release. That an American journalist working for a powerful news organization could be so easily targeted sent tremors through the local press corps and discouraged serious investigations into matters such as militant groups active inside Pakistan.

However, the Pakistani press – which includes everything from religious-party organs to scandal sheets to sober political journals – largely holds its own under the military government led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. While self-censorship is widespread, the tenacity of the local media is remarkable. Pakistani journalists have long endured routine surveillance and harassment by state intelligence agencies, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence, which the army controls, and these pressures have intensified under Musharraf's rule.

Working without the protections offered by democratic institutions, many journalists avoid publicizing state-sponsored harassment for fear of reprisals. One of the country's leading newspapers sent a private letter to General Musharraf after two of its correspondents complained of harassment and threats from intelligence officials. The letter, a copy of which CPJ obtained, urged Musharraf to order an inquiry into the matter but also explained that the newspaper "does not want to generate a public controversy through its publications ... when there is a dire need for greater harmony in the country to meet the external threat."

One U.S. journalist, Elizabeth Rubin, who attempted to escape her military minders while traveling in Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-controlled section of the disputed Himalayan territory, said that as soon as she left the area, intelligence agents interrogated her sources. Authorities detained one of these sources, a Kashmiri, for nearly two months. Intelligence agents held another man, a refugee who had fled from Indian-controlled Kashmir and had worked with Rubin as a guide and translator, incommunicado for 10 days. He was repeatedly interrogated and accused of working to tarnish Pakistan's image. A local journalist who had worked with Rubin as a fixer, meanwhile, nearly lost his job at an Urdu-language daily that was under government pressure to dismiss him.

While the military government did not undertake a sweeping crackdown on the media, several actions belied its avowed commitment to press freedom. Shaheen Sehbai, the former editor of The News newspaper, resigned in March, citing government interference with the publication's editorial content. From the United States, Sehbai began publishing an online newspaper, The South Asia Tribune, which frequently criticizes the military regime. With Sehbai out of the country and out of reach, police harassed and arrested several members of his family on spurious charges, including armed robbery.

During the run-up to Musharraf's broadly criticized April referendum, which extended his presidency for five years, the general frequently accused the press of unfairly attacking his record. In August, Musharraf introduced a series of new media ordinances, which were billed as reform measures but may be used to limit press freedom. The All Pakistan Newspaper Society, a powerful organization of the country's publishers, criticized the new laws, calling them "illegitimate, unethical, and unconstitutional." Under these laws, defamation remains a criminal offense, and publishing without a government license is punishable by imprisonment. One ordinance mandates the creation of a Press Council, chaired by a government appointee, with the power to ban publications and issue other punitive sanctions.

The press laws were announced at around the same time that Musharraf unilaterally introduced a number of constitutional amendments to strengthen his powers and give the military a permanent role in governance. All these steps came in advance of the October parliamentary elections, which were supposed to usher in a shift to a civilian government. The new prime minister, however, is a Musharraf ally, and ultimate power appears to remain with the general and his army.

Although no party won an absolute majority in the elections, a coalition of hard-line Islamist parties won control of two key provinces along the Afghan border, North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan Province. This religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), adamantly opposes U.S. presence in the region, especially U.S. operations in the border areas, where al-Qaeda and Taliban members are believed to have found refuge after fleeing Afghanistan.

In the past, religious parties have not tolerated the press. One journalist who had worked in Peshawar, in NWFP, was forced into exile in 1999 after the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, a powerful religious party that now belongs to the MMA, organized large-scale demonstrations calling for his assassination. The journalist had angered local religious leaders by reporting on allegations of sexual harassment of children at Muslim seminaries in the area. In 2001, religious parties in NWFP organized a series of protests against journalists working for the Peshawar-based Frontier Post newspaper, which had accidentally published a letter that was considered blasphemous. Local authorities responded by arresting seven journalists for blasphemy, which is punishable by death. At the end of 2002, one of these journalists, Munawwar Mohsin, remained in prison.

Reporting along the Afghan border is difficult and dangerous. Non-Pakistanis are required to obtain permission before traveling to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, over which the central government exercises little control, but foreign journalists were generally denied access to the area in 2002. This made reporting on the nature and extent of U.S. military activity in the region almost impossible. Journalists based in the tribal areas are vulnerable to pressure from local administrators, who wield unchecked power under laws dating from the British colonial period. Members of the media also face threats and harassment from heavily armed segments of the public. In 2002, one local journalist received death threats after filming footage along the border areas for a U.S. documentary about the search for al-Qaeda members. He was accused of working as a U.S. informant.

Date unknown
Daniel Pearl, The Wall Street Journal KILLED

U.S. government officials confirmed on February 21 that Pearl, kidnapped South Asia correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, had been killed by his captors.

The exact date of his murder was uncertain, but authorities announced his death after receiving a graphic, three-and-a-half minute digital videotape containing scenes in which one of the killers slits Pearl's throat, and then someone holds his severed head. The faces of the assailants are not visible on the video, according to news reports.

Pearl, 38, went missing on January 23 in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan, and was last seen on his way to an interview at the Village Restaurant, downtown near the Metropole Hotel. According to The Wall Street Journal, Pearl had been reporting on Richard Reid, a suspected terrorist who allegedly tried to blow up an airplane during a transatlantic flight with a bomb in his shoe.

Four days after his disappearance, a group calling itself "The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty" sent an e-mail to several U.S.- and Pakistan-based news organizations claiming responsibility for kidnapping Pearl and accusing him of being an American spy. The e-mail also contained four photographs of the journalist, including one in which he is held at gunpoint and another in which he is holding a copy of the January 24 issue of Pakistan's Dawn newspaper.

The e-mail contained a series of demands, including the repatriation of Pakistani detainees held by the U.S. Army in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The sender or senders, who used a Hotmail e-mail account under the name "Kidnapperguy," said Pearl was "at present being kept in very inhuman circumstances quite similar infact [sic] to the way that Pakistanis and nationals of other sovereign countries are being kept in Cuba by the American Army."

Another e-mail was sent on January 30, also including photographs of Pearl held captive. This e-mail accused him of being an agent of Mossad, Israel's spy agency, and said he would be killed within 24 hours unless the group's demands were met.

After scrutinizing the videotape that officials received weeks later, authorities believe that Pearl may have been murdered before the second e-mail was sent. During that footage, Pearl is forced to identify himself as Jewish and to deliver scripted lines reiterating some of the demands made in the e-mails, according to an FBI analysis of the tape that was provided to the Journal.

On February 12, before Pearl's murder was discovered, Pakistani police announced the arrest of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, whom they identified as the prime suspect behind the journalist's kidnapping.

On March 14, a U.S. grand jury indicted Saeed, charging him with hostage-taking and conspiracy to commit hostage-taking resulting in Pearl's murder. U.S. prosecutors also unsealed a secret indictment filed against Saeed in November 2001 accusing him of participating in the 1994 kidnapping of U.S. tourist Bela Nuss in India. Pakistan refused to extradite Saeed, possibly to avoid damaging disclosures of links between the country's intelligence agencies and militant Islamist groups that the United States wants to see eliminated.

In April, Saeed and three accomplices – Salman Saqib, Fahad Naseem, and Shaikh Adil – were charged with Pearl's kidnapping and murder before Pakistan's special anti-terrorism court. The trial, initially convened at Karachi's Central Jail and later moved to a heavily guarded prison in Hyderabad due to security concerns, was closed to journalists and the public.

In mid-May, as the trial was under way, police found a dismembered body believed to be Pearl's buried in the outskirts of Karachi on property owned by the Al-Rashid Trust, an Islamic charity that the United States has accused of funneling money to al-Qaeda. Police were reportedly led to the shallow grave by Fazal Karim, a member of the banned militant Sunni Muslim group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. At year's end, Karim had not been charged, and though it has been widely reported that he was detained, authorities have never officially acknowledged his arrest.

On July 15, the anti-terrorism court announced that Saeed and his accomplices were guilty of Pearl's kidnapping and murder. Saeed, who was accused of masterminding the crime, was sentenced to death by hanging; Saqib, Naseem, and Adil each received 25-year prison sentences. They have appealed the ruling, and the case was still pending at year's end.

Shortly after the ruling, U.S. officials announced DNA test results confirming that the body found in May was indeed Pearl's.

In mid-August, The Associated Press (AP) published a detailed account of Pearl's kidnapping, citing two investigators who spoke on condition of anonymity. The officials said that, according to Karim (who had led police to the journalist's body in May) and two others held in unofficial custody, Pearl was shot and wounded on the sixth day of his capture when he tried to escape and was murdered on the ninth day. The AP identified the two other detainees as Zubair Chishti and Naeem Bukhari, who is also known as Attaur Rehman and is a leader of the sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The men also said that three Arabs, possibly from Yemen, were brought to the hideout on the ninth day, and that they were involved in filming and carrying out the execution.

Karim later identified one of the Yemenis among those arrested in a September 11, 2002, raid in Karachi, during which U.S. and Pakistani authorities detained several suspected al-Qaeda members, including Ramzi Binalshibh, allegedly a senior al-Qaeda leader who has claimed a central role in coordinating the September 11 attacks.

The Washington Post reported that Karim and Bukhari "have told police that the man who slit Pearl's throat was Khalid Sheik Mohammed," whom U.S. intelligence officials have identified as the current head of al-Qaeda's military operations. U.S. officials have told journalists that Mohammed was not among those captured in the Karachi raids, and that his current status is unclear. He had appeared with Binalshibh in a pre-recorded interview broadcast by the Qatar-based Arabic-language satellite channel Al-Jazeera to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

A former U.S. intelligence officer, Robert Baer, told the United Press International (UPI) news agency that he had given Pearl information about Mohammed, and that he believes it was the journalist's investigations of Mohammed that may have cost him his life. Baer, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for more than 20 years in Asia and the Middle East and wrote the book See No Evil, which criticizes the CIA, told UPI, "I have heard from [intelligence] people who follow this closely that it was people close to Mohammed that killed him, if it wasn't Mohammed himself."

UPI quoted a Wall Street Journal spokesperson as saying that, "Everything we know from before and after Danny's murder indicates his reporting effort focused on [alleged shoe bomber] Richard Reid."

April 14
A.R. Shuja, Khabrain ATTACKED
Tahir Rasheed, Khabrain ATTACKED
Tasneem, Khabrain ATTACKED
Ibrahim Lucky, Online Lahore ATTACKED
Mian Aslam, Business Report ATTACKED
Mehtabuddin Nishat, Ghareeb ATTACKED
Sarfraz Sahi, Insaaf ATTACKED
Malik Naeem, Parwaz ATTACKED
Ashfaq Jahangir, Parwaz ATTACKED
Naseer Cheema, Current Report ATTACKED
Muhammad Bilal, Current Report ATTACKED
Hamid Raza, Juraat ATTACKED
Ramzan Nasir, Tehrik ATTACKED
Mayed Ali, The News ATTACKED
Roman Ihsan, Jang ATTACKED
Nasir Butt, Pakistan ATTACKED
Ziaullah, Pakistan ATTACKED
Khalid, Pakistan ATTACKED
Mian Saeef, Ausaf ATTACKED
Jawed Saddiqui, Musawat ATTACKED
Saeed Qadri, Din ATTACKED
Mian Rifaat Qadri, News Network International ATTACKED
Jawed Malik, Soorat-i-Hal ATTACKED

Police in Faisalabad, Punjab Province, assaulted a group of journalists during a rally staged to promote an upcoming referendum to prolong the presidency of General Pervez Musharraf for five more years. Dozens of journalists had walked out of the rally to protest hostile remarks by Punjab governor Khalid Maqbool, who accused the Pakistani media of undermining General Musharraf's referendum campaign "by publishing fake reports." As the journalists left the rally, which was held at the Iqbal Stadium in Faisalabad, baton-wielding police officers assaulted them.

According to a report in the newspaper Dawn, at least 23 journalists were injured, including:

  • Shuja, Rasheed, and Tasneem (full name unavailable), of the newspaper Khabrain;
  • Lucky, of the news agency Online Lahore;
  • Aslam, of the newspaper Business Report;
  • Nishat, of the newspaper Ghareeb;
  • Sahi, of the newspaper Insaaf;
  • Naeem and Jahangir, of the newspaper Parwaz;
  • Cheema and Bilal, of the newspaper Current Report;
  • Raza, of the newspaper Juraat;
  • Nasir, of the newspaper Tehrik;
  • Ali, of the daily The News;
  • Ihsan, of the daily Jang;
  • Butt, Ziaullah, and Khalid (full names unavailable), of the newspaper Pakistan;
  • Saeef, of the newspaper Ausaf;
  • Saddiqui, of the daily Musawat;
  • Saeed Qadri, of the daily Din;
  • Mian Rifaat Qadri, of the Pakistani news agency News Network International; and
  • Malik of the newspaper Soorat-i-Hal.

Members of the public also assaulted some journalists after Governor Maqbool, a retired lieutenant general, warned that "the public could take revenge on [journalists] if they did not desist from wrong reporting," according to Dawn. Maqbool then led the crowd in chanting "Shame!" against the press, prompting the journalists to walk out.

May 10
Amardeep Bassey, The Sunday Mercury IMPRISONED

Bassey, investigations editor for the British newspaper The Sunday Mercury, and his two Pakistani guides, Naoshad Ali Afridi and Khitab Shah Shinwari, were arrested at the Torkham border crossing, near Peshawar, on their way back into Pakistan from Afghanistan. Pakistani officials told journalists that Bassey, a British citizen, was being held on suspicion of espionage.

An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press that Bassey had failed to obtain an exit visa before leaving Pakistan. Bassey, Afridi, and Shinwari were first held in Landi Kotal, a Pakistani town at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. They were later transferred to a detention center in Peshawar, where they were interrogated by members of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and other state security agencies, according to local and international news reports.

The British Foreign Office said that Bassey was one of five accredited journalists on an April trip to Afghanistan sponsored by the British government, but that he was working independently at the time of his arrest. Pakistani officials told local journalists that they were suspicious of Bassey because of his Indian descent. An activist with the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan who visited Bassey in detention said the journalist was accused of spying for neighboring India. Authorities also claimed that Bassey's watch, which includes a built-in digital camera, raised suspicions that he was acting as a spy.

Indian journalists and journalists of Indian origin are rarely granted visas to report in Pakistan. Once the country , they are generally subject to intense scrutiny by Pakistan's intelligence services. On May 25, after finding no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, local authorities issued a deportation order for Bassey and forwarded it to the Interior Minister's office. However, authorities did not release Bassey until June 6 and offered no explanation for the delay. His guides were released without charge on July 10.

August 20
Shaheen Sehbai, The South Asia Tribune HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION

Police in Rawalpindi filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Sehbai, editor of the online weekly South Asia Tribune, accusing him of criminal acts allegedly committed in February 2001. The complaint was made by Khalid Mahmud Hekazi, who is, according to Sehbai, a civilian employee who works at the Pakistani army's general headquarters in Rawalpindi. Hekazi was formerly married to a cousin of Sehbai's, whom he recently divorced.

The FIR states, among other things, that Sehbai threatened to rob Hekazi at his home at gunpoint, and names Sehbai's wife, as well as several nieces and nephews, as complicit in these crimes. Sehbai and his wife live in the United States and were therefore in no danger of arrest. However, police began harassing Sehbai's relatives, even arresting several of them as alleged "accomplices." The South Asian Tribune has written critically about Pakistan's military government.

Sehbai had previously worked as editor of the national English-language daily The News, one of Pakistan's most influential newspapers. He resigned from The News on March 1, alleging government interference with the editorial content of the paper.

October 20
Shahid Soomro, Kawish KILLED

Soomro, a correspondent for the Sindhi-language newspaper Kawish, was assassinated in the town of Kandhkot, Sindh Province, apparently in reprisal for his reporting on abuses committed during general elections held on October 10.

At around midnight on October 20, three men went to Soomro's home and tried to abduct him, according to his younger brother Aziz, who witnessed the crime. When Soomro resisted, the men shot him dead. Kawish editor Ali Kazi said that Soomro had at least nine bullet wounds and died almost instantly.

The gunmen escaped with two accomplices in a white car waiting outside Soomro's house, said local news reports.

Aziz filed a case with police identifying three of the assailants by name, Wahid Ali Bijarani, Mohammad Ali Bijarani, and Mohammad Siddiq.

Wahid Ali and Mohammad Ali, who are brothers, are members of the powerful Bijarani family, which owns much land in the area around Kandhkot and exercises considerable influence through the feudal system still prevalent in much of Pakistan. A third brother, Mir Mehboob Bijarani, was elected to the Sindh Provincial Assembly in the October 10 poll, while an uncle, Mir Hazzar Khan Bijarani, won a seat in the National Assembly. (Both represent exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.)

Soomro's colleagues suspect that he was killed for his reporting about alleged abuses committed by Bijarani family members and supporters during the general elections. Soomro had a reputation for courageous, independent reporting, and his publication, Kawish, is one of the most influential newspapers in Sindh Province.

On October 24, police announced that Wahid Ali Bijarani, Mohammad Ali Bijarani, and Mohammad Siddiq, the three suspects identified by the journalist's family, had been detained for questioning. At year's end, the three men remained in custody but had not been charged.

The Bijarani family has not commented publicly on the allegations.

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