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Pakistani Journalist Pay High Price For Covering Protests


Pakistani opposition protesters shout anti-anti government slogans after storming the headquarters of the state owned Pakistan Television building during anti-government protests in Islamabad, September 1, 2014.

Scores of Pakistani journalists have been injured by protestors and police alike while covering the ongoing antigovernment protests in the Pakistani capital.

Pakistani media reports that more than 30 journalists have been injured in stampedes by hoards of violent protestors and the riot police chasing them.

Iffat Hassan Rizvi, a female reporter for Geo TV, an independent television news channel, was one of the journalists injured during fierce clashes in the early hours of August 30 when protestors stormed the the executive and parliament buildings in Islamabad's government district.

"I was injured when they stormed the parliament. I ran towards the nearby Supreme Court building," said Rizvi. "Once inside, I asked an army officer to protect me from the mob. I felt that all women reporters were on their own that day and we had to protect ourselves."

Pakistani security personnel move opposition supporters from the headquarters of the state-owned Pakistani Television in Islamabad on September 1, 2014.
Pakistani security personnel move opposition supporters from the headquarters of the state-owned Pakistani Television in Islamabad on September 1, 2014.

The clashes between protestors and riot police left three dead and nearly 500 injured, including more than 100 policemen.

That day many journalists were severely beaten by the protestors who had transformed into a mob armed with sticks, clubs, and slingshots, as well as by riot police. Some of the brutal beatings were caught on camera, and Samaa TV reported that senior government minister Saad Rafique intervened to stop police violence.

The next day, a mob attempted to storm the offices of Geo TV for its critical reporting of the protest, which have been led by cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and conservative Muslim cleric Tahir-ul Qadri. Their supporters have been camped in Islamabad since August 15 demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a radical overhaul of the country's political system.

The protestors pelted stones, broke window panes, and damaged cars in their attempt to overrun Geo TV’s office building.

The most brazen attack on the media, however, occurred on September 1. Hundreds of antigovernment protestors stormed the state TV (PTV) headquarters in the capital. They reportedly harassed staff, damaged and stole equipment, and temporarily forced broadcasting off the air before being escorted out of the building by paramilitary forces.

An opposition supporter enters the newsroom of the headquarters of PTV building.
An opposition supporter enters the newsroom of the headquarters of PTV building.

Nazir Tabassum, a senior PTV representative, said the attack damaged Pakistan's international image.

"It is very unfortunate that a national institution was ransacked," he told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. "We lost equipment worth millions and many of our staff members were harassed, including a woman. The protestors showed no respect for women."

Adnan Rehmat, a representative of the press freedom organization Civic Action Resources, said more must be done to protect journalists.

"A journalist's job is to report news not to become part of the news," he said. "The media needs to do its job honestly. They should report for the masses and not for a particular party."

Global media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) considers Pakistan to be one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.

Separate from the violence in Islamabad, at least four media workers have been shot dead in Pakistan during the past few weeks.

In a recent blog post, CPJ called on Pakistan's journalists to unite against threats.

"Until the Pakistani media can achieve some level of solidarity, they have little hope of combating the risks of being a journalist, CPJ research shows."

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Rabia Akram's reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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