The CJA applauded April’s news that Zimbabwe’s coalition government plans to stop muzzling independent media and persecuting journalists. Patrick Chinamasa, a Mugabe loyalist, said there is agreement to review media policy and create a political climate where divergent voices will be heard. CJA vice-president Chris Cobb commented: “This is welcome. But we have to be cautious. Words are cheap.”
– and speaks up for Pakistani journalists
The CJA put out on April 5 a statement deploring growing threats to journalists in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, once a popular mountain holiday area.
In February it condemned the murder in the valley of Musa Khankel of Geo News. He was taken away at gunpoint while covering a ceasefire deal. His reporting was said to have enraged both the Taliban and government agencies. Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, condemned his killing.
A disturbing report from Reporters Sans Frontieres speaks of violence bringing fear and self-censorship to Swat. An area controlled by the Taliban since the ceasefire is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Taliban enforcement of Sharia (Islamic law) is stifling free expression.
A TV reporter said: “Independent journalism is going to be more and more difficult. Who is going to protect me from the Taliban militants?”
RSF writes: “The fear imposed by the Taliban, including Maulana Qazi Fazlullah and his illegal radio broadcasts, is directly affecting free expression.”
“Women’s rights, and abuses committed by Maulana Fazlullah’s followers, are being covered less and less by the local press.”
The CJA urges federal and provincial authorities, and the Taliban, to guarantee the safety of journalists in Pakistan’s tribal areas and to allow freedom of expression to flourish.
Hassan Shahriar, president of the CJA, says: “We demand the Pakistani government takes steps to provide security for journalists.”
Three cable TV operators in Swat were forced to close last year. This April they were allowed to resume broadcasting Islamic and Pakistani programmes. The Taliban have banned the sale of satellite dishes, DVDs and CDs. Four newspapers have been forced to leave the city of Mingora.
Pakistan’s information ministry has organised safety training for journalists in conflict zones.
Kidnappers threatened in March to kill Canadian web journalist Khadija Abdul Qahar (formerly Beverly Giesebrecht) unless they got a two-million-dollar ransom. She was snatched in November in North Waziristan.
Another kidnapped journalist, Faisalabad-based Khawar Shafiq, managed to escape in April when his bearded captors’ car broke down. They had questioned him about the Faisalabad office of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Pearl, an American journalist, was murdered in Karachi in 2002. He had been investigating Al-Qaeda.
Gunmen in South Waziristan stole state-owned Radio Pakistan Wana’s transmission equipment in April and blew up its building. Because of threats, it had given up broadcasting music. It merely broadcast development news, sport and Islamic instruction.