by Mahendra Ved, CJA India
The April 19 attack on senior journalist and Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir has left Pakistani Government red faced as statements of condemnation are pouring in from the United States to various media and human rights bodies to the local political class.
According to media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, seven reporters lost their lives in the line of duty in 2013 in the country.
Mira Sethi, Lahore-based writer and daughter of renowned editor Najam Sethi, says 15 journalists, including her father, are on the hit list.
The attack took place in Karachi. Mir was attacked on Sharae Faisal near Natha Khan area when the gunmen opened fire on his vehicle around 5:30pm on Saturday.
Mir’s car was shot at by two men on motorcycle. They kept firing at him. He received three bullets. His driver, unhurt, rushed him to hospital, where he was on Sunday stated to be out of danger.
The government has been embarrassed because Mir, his family and colleagues have all blamed the Pakistan Army’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) for the attack. The name of ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam has been brought in.
The agency has said that it was “regrettable” that such an accusation was being made. But ISI has a long track record of targeting journalists and anybody it considers as opposed to the “national interests” as the ISI perceives.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Sunday summoned a meeting of political and government aides to discuss the situation.
The government has been urged to provide security to the journalists in the wake of the attack on Mir. Another senior journalist Raza Rumi survived an attack last month.
In November 2012, explosives were found under the vehicle of Mir in Islamabad when he had gone for some work with his driver and parked his car for a little.
Friends and colleagues said Mir had previously told them that if he is attacked, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), “and its chief Lt General Zaheerul Islam will be responsible”.
Speaking to Geo News, his brother Amir Mir said the senior anchorperson had visited him and informed him of what he called a plan hatched by Lt-Gen Islam to assassinate him.
Geo News, the media organisation for which Mir works, reported that he had also sent a recorded video to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) implicating the ISI in any attempt on his life.
The United States joined the condemnation, calling it the latest and worrisome. “Freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy.” Ambassador Olson said just recently, attacks like these should be a wake-up call to all who value democracy in Pakistan. “We wish Hamid Mir a speedy recovery, and urge the Government of Pakistan to bring all those responsible for these attacks on the media to justice.”
President of Rural Media Network Pakistan Ehsan Ahmed Sehar has strongly condemned the attack on Hamid Mir and termed it a blow to the free and fair media in Pakistan. In a press statement he said that despite the much publicized announcement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that his government is setting up a media commission for safety and security of journalists in Pakistan, there is complete silence and no further action has been taken in this regard.
Intimidations and threats to journalists from different groups are continued and media houses have been forced to ask their staff not to be harsh while criticizing militant and extremist groups.
He added that Nawaz Sharif had assured in his meeting with head of the US based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last month that “I want to make Pakistan a journalist friendly country where not only national but international media should feel safe and respected.”
In a message, President Mamnoon Hussain condemned the attack and expressed sorrow at the incident. Social media also exploded with messages of condemnation.
No militant group has so far accepted responsibility for the attack.
This is not the first time an attempt has been made on Mir’s life.
In November 2012, Mir narrowly escaped a bid on his life when the bomb disposal squad defused a bomb planted under his car in Islamabad. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hadaccepted responsibility for the attempt and said it was targeting the journalist due to his “secular agenda”.
Rights groups say Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for working journalists.
According to Zarrar Khuhro, a Dawn newspaper staffer, Hamid Mir was shot because of his calls to respect the human rights of the Baloch, because he stood with Mama Qadeer in the Long March. Also, because he didn’t give enough space to the Taliban’s viewpoint.
On both these issues – Taliban and Balochistan, Pakistani authorities have been harsh, not just on the local media and critics, but also on foreigners.
Mira Sethi writes:
“Last month, Pakistani authorities denied British journalist Willem Marx an entry visa to participate in a panel on reporting in Pakistan at the Lahore Literary Festival. The apparent reason: his newly released book, Balochistan at a Crossroads. Pakistani consular staff in New York informed Marx he was not welcome in the country. Marx told CPJ that after much probing, the consular official muttered to him, “It was the agencies”–a term used for Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, which includes the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
“This wasn’t the first time Marx had dismayed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. During his reporting in 2009–despite obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC), without which foreigners are generally not allowed into the province–it was clear Marx was not welcome there by the ISI. “It’s an incredibly intimidating place to work,” he said. ISI agents followed him throughout his time there, he told me. As a result, it was at times difficult for Marx to get people to meet with him, because to do so would invite trouble from the intelligence agencies. There are checkpoints everywhere in the province, he said.
“On his departure from the country, authorities detained Marx for over an hour at the Karachi airport. The unidentified officials who held him said the intelligence agencies were not happy about his meeting with a Baluch separatist group during his reporting trip to the province. The officials confiscated one of Marx’s videotapes.”
photo credit: oui-ennui via photopin cc