Manhandling of Swat journalist: probe into incident awaited -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Manhandling of Swat journalist: probe into incident awaited

PESHAWAR: When Musa Khankhel, The News and Geo TV correspondent in Swat, was manhandled recently by personnel of the security forces, it was not something unusual for Swati journalists who were facing threats and intimidation by Taliban militants, members of the intelligence agencies, men in uniform and other pressure groups.

Two journalists in Swat have paid with their lives while performing their professional duties. Another two were wounded. Then there are those who have been manhandled and threatened. Journalism has become a dangerous profession in Swat even if journalists based there have become known and better paid because their militancy-hit district is nowadays always in the news.

Senior journalist Sirajuddin, who worked for an Urdu and an English daily, was killed on February 29 this year in a suicide bombing that targeted DSP Javed Iqbal’s funeral in Mingora. The deadly explosion left 40 people dead and more than 100 injured.

Sirajuddin, an ever-smiling man with a lively nature, had gone to attend the funeral as part of his social responsibility and professional duty. He obviously would have never imagined that suicide bombers could even target the funeral of a senior cop who had earlier been assassinated by militants.

The late Sirajuddin was attracted to journalism because his brother Salahuddin was a veteran journalist and long-time chairman of the Swat Press Club. The same suicide bombing caused injuries to Muhammad Tariq, who works for an Urdu daily and a TV channel. Hazrat Bilal, general secretary of the Swat Union of Journalists and a journalist with two Urdu newspapers, also received injuries in this suicide blast.

Two cameramen working for a private TV channel sustained injuries when security forces fired shells near the Fizzagat Park, which overlooks Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlullah’s village, Mamdheray, in November 2007. The risk of getting hit in crossfire or by rockets and artillery shells fired by the warring sides is omnipresent in present-day Swat.

Most journalists in Swat have at times been threatened or instructed to cover events in a particular manner. Taliban militants have ordered reporters to refer to them as Mujahideen and Shaheed (martyrs) and not as miscreants or terrorists, the terms used by government functionaries and spokesmen to describe them. Reporters had to request their editors and media proprietors not to use those words that could provoke the militants to harm them. Security forces want the journalists to verify their stories from the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and to be careful while reporting the claims made by the militants. This is not an unjust demand but problems arise when personnel of the intelligence agencies start intimidating the reporters.

Musa Khankhel was abused and manhandled by five unidentified personnel of security forces. Four of them were in military uniform and their boss, apparently a major, was in civvies. According to Musa Khankhel, the major kept abusing him while ordering his men to hit him hard. “I was called to the Gulkadda Circuit House, which serves as the headquarters of the Army in Saidu Sharif. The major accused me of misreporting and said he knew my place of residence and would eliminate me along with my family. It was a harrowing experience for me,” he recalled while talking to The News.

According to Musa Khankhel, he had expected such a rough treatment after having received threats on phone. His younger brother Isa Khankhel, who is a reporter for Urdu daily Jang, said he too had received threats from the militants and security forces.

The News contacted Maj Gen Athar Abbas, director general of the ISPR, to complain about the manhandling of Musa Khankhel by uniformed military personnel in Swat. He said he was unaware of the incident and would make enquiries into the case. It seems he forgot to do so as no reply was given to The News and no probe was ordered into the incident.
Source: The News
Date:9/7/2008