The darkest day in media history
PESHAWAR: Militancy has become a harsh reality for the citizens of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas, a reality habituated.
Like first responders, journalists reach crime scenes and internalise all the gore and blood. And we tend to forget that journalists –like government officials, armed and security forces and members of the general public– are also amongst the victims.
Media personnel deserve appreciation for reporting on these violent acts of terror. Scattered incidents of media personnel coming under attack throughout the region have become commonplace.
One of the most heinous attempts on journalists took place in Peshawar five years ago.
December 22, 2009 has gone down as the darkest day in media history. A large number of journalists had gathered at Peshawar Press Club (PPC) to mourn the demise of Sohail Qalandar, founding resident editor of Daily Express. However, things took a dramatic turn when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the press club’s entrance.
Three innocent lives were lost in this attack. Riazuddin, a police constable, Syed Iqbal Shah, the club’s cashier and an employee of accounts department fell victim to this barbaric attack. Around 19 people, including journalists, cameramen, guests and club employees, were wounded. Yasar Ali and Ayub Khan, two of the club’s employees, were critically wounded and later recovered.
Abid Naveed – a journalist otherwise known as Asfandyar Chamkani who lost his life in an attack on Khyber Super Market in June 2011 –was also injured in the attack.
Unfortunately, Shah succumbed to his injuries at Lady Reading Hospital.
Following the attack, then FC commandant Sifwat Ghayoor reached the site and helped. He remained there till it had been cleared by security officials and the bomb disposal unit. Ghayoor helped carry the body of Riazuddin into an ambulance and ensured it was shifted to a hospital.
Incidentally, Ghayoor died the following year when a suicide bomber rammed into his vehicle in Saddar.
The incident shook the entire nation. Within a few hours, leading politicians and army personnel visited the site. Media organisations, journalists and analysts from across the world condemned the incident.
The PPC came under attack as it had become an important venue where terrorism and extremism was openly denounced. Moreover, it had played a major role in encouraging leaders from various political parties to form the Aman Tehreek. From this forum, they signed the Peshawar Declaration which called for a review of all internal and external policies inherited from military ruler Ziaul Haq.
At the time, the declaration was vehemently criticised. However, the Peshawar Declaration has now been endorsed and upheld in the wake of the barbaric attack on children at Army
Nothing can justify the loss of innocent lives on that fated day. Riazuddin had been stationed at the PPC for a long time and shared a close relationship with members. Shah had only joined the club two months before his death.
After the 2008 election, when the Awami National Party seized the reins in K-P, militant attacks became the order of the day. This triggered uncertainty and fear among people. However, Riazuddin had repeatedly assured PPC members that he would protect them at all costs.
“The suicide bombers will have to kill me and go over my dead body to attack you,” he would say. In death, Riazuddin proved his commitment to protect the media from any form of assault. Journalists will never forget his sacrifice.
With a single act of bravery, he saved the lives of over 70 journalists present inside the club.