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Journalists Paying High Price For Covering Pakistan Violence

Rasool Dawar with his children.
Rasool Dawar with his children.

Reporters in Pakistan's violence-wrecked northwestern tribal areas and Swat Valley say intimidation from militant groups and authorities pose serious threats for their security.

Journalists say that belligerents in Pakistan's decade-old insurgency are using assassinations, violence, threats and intimidation to affect their coverage of the conflict that has left more than 50,000 civilians, soldiers and militants dead since 2004.

Talking in Radio Mashaal's weekly live call-in show, "Along the Borderland," Safdar Dawar, former president of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), said that since 2005 13 of his colleagues have been killed, five seriously wounded and more than 100 journalists and their families forced out of their homes in different parts of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

"After Islamabad launched a military offensive in North Waziristan Agency [tribal district last June] against pro Al-Qaeda Taliban groups, six tribal journalists were abducted by the authorities or militant groups," he said.

Dawar said Pakistani media organizations offer little support for journalists working in the tribal areas and often abandon them after they are threatened by the militants or security forces.

Rasool Dawar, a journalist from North Waziristan, was detained by the state security agencies twice but was never given any reasons for his detention.

He told Radio Mashaal he was first arrested by security forces on February 20 and was released after being kept blind-folded for hours. He said that incident happened in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where he reports for a leading Pakistani news channel, Geo.

Again on April 14, he was detained by Peshawar police along with a colleague. The police had no arrest warrant for him and had no formal charges against him.

"I repeatedly asked them what I had done wrong, but they just said my arrest was due to some misunderstanding. Maybe the first time was a misunderstanding, but why did they arrest me a second time?" he said.

Rasool Dawar is now considering leaving journalism and taking up farming in his village in North Waziristan.

His problems, however, began in his hometown. Last summer, threats in North Waziristan prompted him to move to Peshawar along with his family. Now even Peshawar is not safe for him. Since his last detention, Rasool Dawar is living in the capital, Islamabad, while his wife and five children remain in Peshawar.

Fazal Khaliq, a reporter for the English-language daily "The Express Tribune" in Swat Valley, says reporters often do not know the imperceptible line they are expected not to cross when covering the conflict in northwestern Pakistan.

"During the military operation in 2009, four local journalists were killed in Swat Valley, but security forces have yet to investigate the motives and people behind their murder," he said. "Recently, some of the local journalists have received letters and phone calls from different militant groups demanding money and favors."

Khaliq says that while Islamabad claims to be fighting terrorists, it needs more to address the worsening environment for journalists. "I wonder, despite all the advancements in technology, why the police and security agencies are unable to trace the people responsible for threatening journalists?" he said.

"Along the Borderland" is a weekly, hour-long Radio Mashaal call-in show known for interactive debates on social and political issues. Every Tuesday, millions of listeners in the Pakistani borderlands of FATA, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces tune in to the show.