To be a journalist in Balochistan
By: Muhammad Akbar Notezai
There is no journalistic activity in these districts of Balochistan: Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kalat, Panjgur, Kech, Awaran, Gwadar, Kharan and even in Quetta
It is worth mentioning that journalism in Balochistan is becoming challenging day by day, where journalists barely and rarely dare to write and report independently. They ruthlessly receive threats from the security forces, underground organisations, sectarian organisations, political parties, student wings, etc, when they endeavour to perform their journalistic duties bravely and honestly in the restive province. Due to these reasons, in Balochistan, doing independent journalism has become a distant idea.
There is no journalistic activity in these districts of Balochistan: Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Kalat, Panjgur, Kech, Awaran, Gwadar, Kharan and even in Quetta. By no journalism is meant the local reporters and journalists are bound due to various pressure groups. They cannot report about any happenings due to the threats, because nearly 33 journalists belonging to these districts have been killed cruelly. And surprisingly, so far slain journalists’ killers are not apprehended. Nor are the problems journalists face resolved.
The names of slain journalists who have been killed are: Mohammad Iqbal, Khalil Ullah Sumalani, Dr Chisti Mujahid, Khadim Hussain Sheikh, Wasi Ahmed Qureshi, Faiz Sasoli, Lala Hamid Baloch, Mohammad Khan Sasoli, Malik Mohammad Arif, Mohammad Sarwar, Ijaz Raisani, Ilyas Nazar, Wali Khan Babar, Abdost Rind, Rehmat Ullah Shaheen, Zarif Faraz, Siddique Eido, Munir Ahmed Shakir, Akhter Mirza, Javed Naseer Rind, Razak Gul Baloch, Haji Mohammad Rafique Achakzai, Abdul Qadir Hajizai, Dilshad Deyani, Abdul Haq Baloch, Khalid Musa, Abdul Ahad Baloch, Rehmat Ullah Abdi, Jamshaid Ali Karl, Saif-ur-Rehman Baloch, Muhammad Imran Sheikh, Mohammad Iqbal and Mehmood Ahmed Afridi.
Moreover, those districts of Balochistan that were previously considered to be safe for journalists are now turning into dangerous places for them to write and report from. Also, due to engagement of the security forces and the armed struggle, journalists who report endanger their lives, or sometimes, they avoid reporting so that they may not be threatened. Some journalists who have dared to report bravely have been blindfolded, tortured, and even imprisoned. One of the examples is Haji Arif (Reporter at Vash TV) from Kharan District of Balochistan, who was picked up and released soon by the security forces as they did not have evidence against him.
In rural areas of Balochistan, the problems of journalists compound further due to a lack of resources and the situation being so tense. As one of Balochistan’s renowned and senior journalists, Shahzada Zulfiqar, told this writer: “Journalists are working just like clerks and conductors in the rural parts of Balochistan. They are bound to issuing or writing about press releases, etc, not more than that. Whenever they try to write or report something independently, they get warned of dire consequences.” This is the reason their journalistic duties seem impossible to perform in the rural parts of Balochistan.
Zulfiqar further added about the security of Balochistan’s journalists: “There are no ways to be followed for the security of Balochistan’s journalists. Balochistan has become the most ‘dangerous place’ for journalists. One of my journalist friends, Malik Siraj Akbar, had to seek political asylum due to the same bad circumstances. He felt the pulse. He knew he would have no space in Balochistan. That is why he had to stay there, and not come back. But, unfortunately, all journalists cannot do so.”
In recent months, private TV reporter Jahangir Aslam and Directorate of Public Relations Balochistan Sector In-charge Abdul Wahid Baloch were heading towards their residence from Press Club in Turbat when gunmen opened indiscriminate firing on them, injuring them critically.
Moreover, a number of Daily Tawar, the well-known Baloch nationalist Urdu language newspaper, staffers, contributors and sub-editors have allegedly been killed or abducted by the security forces. Also, its office was recently raided, and the newspaper said that the security forces surrounded the office, burnt all the furniture of the office and took away the electric equipment, including fax machine, computers and electric generator. Haji Abdul Razzaq, who is a staffer at the same newspaper, was kidnapped by the security forces on March 24 and he is still missing.
In July 2009, Daily Azadi and the Daily Balochistan Express, Quetta, while on August 18, 2009, the Daily Asaap Quetta newspaper offices were forced to close their publications. And unfortunately, after the attack on the Daily Asaap Quetta newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Jan Muhammad Dashti, the newspaper had to close its publication to save the rest of the staffers.
Balochistan’s first online English newspaper, The Baloch Hal, was banned inside Pakistan by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority in November 2010.
It is also pathetic that in Balochistan, especially in its rural parts, journalists do not have any facilities available. They are hardly even paid salaries. Despite having these financial problems, they go to the intelligence agencies, separatist leaders, Sardars/Nawabs and landlords to report. Therefore, in these circumstances, their minor mistakes while reporting create countless hardships for them, and sometimes these minor mistakes get them threatened or killed.
There are several more multi-dimensional challenges being faced by journalists in Balochistan. Journalists, economically, are living a deplorable life. There are a few newspapers and TV channels in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, which pay their reporters. But even these reporters’ salaries are not the equivalent of what their counterparts are getting in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar.
Due to these reasons, Balochistan’s journalists have either quit the profession or they have become silent. Government has failed to ensure their safety. On the contrary, its own institutions threaten the journalists whenever they endeavour to reach the truth.
The writer is a columnist at Daily Balochistan Express, Quetta, and blogs at thttp://www.akbarnotezai.wordpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @Akbar_notezai