Tribal journalists still face security threats after merger
KHYBER: Extension of almost all the regular laws to the merged districts after the region’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018 could not ensure any qualitative change in the nature of reporting in the militancy-affected areas as tribal journalists are still faced with threats and intimidations from both state and non-state actors.
While journalists across the globe celebrate World Press Freedom Day today (May 3), mediapersons in the seven merged tribal districts believe that the environment has become more confused for them during the last five years of merger as they are yet to know, who is wielding actual authority in their districts and to whom they approach to redress their grievances.
Shams Momand, a senior journalist from Momand district, told Dawn that tribal journalists were now increasingly worried about their safety as they were once again faced with the ‘frightening’ phenomenon of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban that resurfaced in some southern parts of the merged districts.
Citing the abduction and torture of Bannu-based tribal journalist Gauhar Wazir by apparently ‘good’ Taliban few days ago, Mr Momand said that that police were yet to register an FIR of the incident despite protests by mediapersons.
Concerns grow as militancy returns to erstwhile Fata
He said that the situation during the fresh wave of terrorism had become more volatile and insecure for tribal journalists as they got direct threats from suspected militants or the non-state actors whenever a reporter filed a story or uploaded a post on his social media account about the activities of militants or any military operation
Khadim Khan Afridi, a journalist from Bara tehsil of Khyber, remained in the ‘illegal’ custody of Counter-Terrorism Department for two weeks in May last year for the reason that a suspected person with the same name was wanted for an attack on police in Peshawar few years ago.
Narrating his ordeal, Khadim Afridi told Dawn that the CTD sleuths treated him like a hardcore militant while confiscating all his necessary documents on May 11, 2022 and then kept him incommunicado for two weeks. He added that CTD was yet to return him his necessary identification cards after his release on May 27, 2022.
Relating the incident to the observance of World Press Freedom Day, he said that he was punished only for his fair and critical reporting of different government departments in Khyber.
He said that along with restrictions and intimidations from ‘official quarters’, tribal journalists received even death threats from local tribesmen on reporting of some honour-related stories as such reports were considered a taboo in the so-called tribal society.
Khiyal Mat Shah, another journalist from Bara, said that things were yet to change in a positive direction as he himself was threatened by suspected militants operating from Afghanistan when he reported the killing of a local militant commander affiliated with outlawed Lashkar-i-Islam few months ago.
He said that tribal journalists were concerned about their safety as the laws for their protection were yet to be made operational in the merged districts. “We still work in an environment of fear as no one is ready to shoulder the responsibility of our safety,” he lamented.
Imran Shinwari, former president of Landi Kotal Press Club, was more concerned about the access to information in the post-merger scenario.
He said that access to information was very difficult as a majority of the government officials refused to attend telephone calls of tribal journalists or respond to their text queries.
“It is very unfortunate that we have not yet made the progress, which the journalists in other parts of the world have so far made in the field of journalism,” he said.
He said that the local customs and traditions were one of the main hurdles to progress of journalism in tribal districts.
Imran Shinwari also lashed out at the local leaders of different political and religious parties along with civil society activists, saying they were very friendly when a story was published in their favour but they turned very critical and at times abusive whenever a news report was published about misdeeds.