protest shot

In Balochistan, life for journalists and reporters is a futile attempt to find a balance between neutral reporting and death. According to a report by the Council for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), Balochistan saw the death of 8 journalists between 2003 and 2012. Of these, four were killed in Quetta, two in Khuzdar, one in Panjgur and another in Turbat.

Journalists in the province often find themselves besieged by separatist groups at one side and state-backed agencies at the other. The trend has spilled into this year as well, smearing it with the death of many journalists.

According to a report in The Diplomat, Mohammad Afzal Khwaja, a reporter for The Balochistan Times was shot to death along with his driver in February this year. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) laid the blame on police, accusing law enforcement of its involvement.

The piece also cites the death of Mumtaz Alam, another journalist from Washuk District,

“In April, 2014, Mumtaz Alam was killed by unknown assailants when he was on his way from Kharan to his home district Besima. One of his journalist friends spoke to The Diplomat about the incident. “Mumtaz worked alone as a reporter from his Washuk District, because his fellow journalists had quit journalism after the killing of Abdul Qadir Hajizai, who was a stringer there.”

However, government authorities say that Mumtaz Alam was targeted by dacoits (bandits) as he was with Levies (law enforcement) personnel, taking teachers’ salaries to Washuk from Kharan because he was also a teacher at a government school.”

But the toll is far from over. In August 2014, death struck again, this time with the murder of a senior journalist and a trainee reporter. Irshad Mastoi was the Secretary General of Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) and the Bureau Chief of an online news agency. They were gunned down in Kabir Building in Quetta.

This year, November marked a month-long global campaign to end impunity and ensure the safety of the journalists world over. But the situation is getting only worse for journalists in Balochistan.

A prominent journalist in Gwadar told PakVoices that factual reporting has become a fatal choice for reporters in Balochistan and it is not possible to independently report about any department. “If you say something critical of a given department, you will start receiving threats through various sources,” he said. He gave the example of how reporting about extortion by some Pakistan Coastal Guard personnel can result in indirect threats of violence.

“Reporting in Balochistan was far less dangerous back in 2006, 2007 and even 2008,” he added, “but since then, the situation has grown only worse and today, you can’t report the truth about any major issue or stakeholder in the region.”

He also lamented the utter of lack interest on the part of mainstream media organizations when it comes to reporting on Balochistan. “They have a clear policy of downplaying or outright ignoring any reports that come out of Balochistan. This is compounded by the fact that the authorities do not allow journalists to get to on-ground facts. A journalist recently trying to access an area of Turbat for a story in a national magazine was told by the authorities to back off. And he did, or he would have faced dire consequences.”

Image Courtesy: Express Tribune