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Journalists Added To 'Terror Watch List' In Restive Pakistani Province

File photo of journalists from the Balochistan Union Of Journalists praying for their colleague Imran Sheikh, who was killed in a bomb attack in January 2013.
File photo of journalists from the Balochistan Union Of Journalists praying for their colleague Imran Sheikh, who was killed in a bomb attack in January 2013.

Ali Raza Rind has braved threats and pressure while covering politics, the separatist insurgency, and sectarian violence in a remote corner of Pakistan's restive southwestern province of Balochistan.

But his life has been turned upside down after authorities added his name to a terrorism watch list, which requires him to frequently report to them.

"Now I live under pressure [and fear]. I am under constant threat. I feel my life and property are insecure. If something were to happen to me, the government would be responsible," he told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "I have no idea why, but I feel like some force wants to silence me forever."

Rind, who has reported for a leading Pakistani daily and a TV news channel, says the authorities have declared him a member of the outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and added his name to a watch list under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is locally known as the fourth schedule.

Across Pakistan, thousands of suspected Islamist militants and members of separatist organizations are included on the terror watch list that authorities keep under this law. Such listings require them to report to the police regularly, and they can be easily tracked and, if needed, rounded up.

Rind is not the only journalist from Balochistan who has been added to the list. Farooq Ahmad Langov, the editor of the small newspaper Zimadar, also figures on the list.

He could not be reached for comment. But one of his close friends said Langov is avoiding contact with the media.

The friend, who requested anonymity, said Langov was a victim of revenge. "He contested the election of a notable person from his area who, after coming into power, pushed to add his name to the watch list," he said.

Langov was previously involved with secular Baluch nationalist factions, some of whom morphed into militant organizations now engaged in Balochistan's decade-old simmering insurgency that has seen thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced.

But either has yet to receive a full explanation about why he is being kept on a terrorism suspect list. Rind says when he tried to take up the issue with the local civilian authorities in his hometown of Dalbandin, both they and the powerful paramilitary Frontier Corps Balochistan were unaware of the reasons for his inclusion on the list.

“I am compelled to visit a police station in Dalbandin daily,” he said. "I have to inform them before leaving town."

Bilal Dar, a journalist in Islamabad who covers Balochistan, portrayed Rind as a fearless, dedicated journalist who has been reporting from a conflict zone.

“I know him very well, and I am sure Rind has no affiliation with any militant organization," he said. Dar says a civilian bureaucrat once threatened Rind in his presence for covering a 2014 attack on Shi’ite pilgrims in Dalbandin.

Dar, a former official at the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), writes for Pakistan's leading Urdu-language daily. He says that he faced constant harassment after he raised the issue of Rind’s persecution.

"When I raised Rind’s issue on PFUJ's platform, I started receiving threatening telephone calls. I really have no an idea who it could be," he said.

Iqbal Khattak, Pakistan’s representative for global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, says he once raised the issue of Baluch journalists before the Pakistani Senate's standing committee on information. "The government is looking into this matter, but Balochistan remains one of the most dangerous places for journalists," Khattak said.

Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, says their administration is also looking into the issue.

“We believe in freedom of expression, but journalists working in Balochistan should respect the norms of ethical journalism," he said. "We have a lot of respect for freedom of the press, but the press should avoid harming the dignity of our state.”

Global and Pakistani press freedom organizations estimate that scores of journalists have been killed in Balochistan since 2004.

“Journalists working in Balochistan have been threatened and harmed by all sides – separatist militants, tribal and feudal lords, sectarian groups, security forces as well as political parties,” said Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior journalist in Balochistan.

"Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers have never been prosecuted," he added.

Kiyya Baloch is a freelance journalist who reports the insurgency, militancy and sectarian violence in Balochistan.


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    Kiyya Baloch

    Kiyya Baloch, a freelance journalist, reports on the insurgency, politics, militancy, and sectarian violence in Balochistan.