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To Escape Taliban Threats, Pakistani Journalist Turns To Human Smugglers

Noor Badshah Yousafzai
Noor Badshah Yousafzai

Noor Badshah Yousafzai now survives on handouts from a UN-funded program to help the victims of human smugglers find new lives in Europe.

Three months ago, the 22-year-old Pakistani journalist invested a large part of his earnings to buy a Turkish tourist visa and fly to Istanbul. Once there, he paid a hefty sum to a human smuggling racket to help him illegally cross into Harmanli.

The small Bulgarian town, near the Turkish border, is one of the first stops for immigrants aspiring to settle in the European Union.

Yousafzai was desperate to flee the southern Pakistani seaport city of Karachi. Since early 2013, he had been reporting on the growing influence of the Taliban in the city for the Urdu-language daily "Janbaz," which is known for covering violence in one of the country's most dangerous cities.

Some of Karachi's impoverished neighborhoods had become sanctuaries for the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after military operations in 2009 flushed out the erstwhile umbrella insurgent group from its refuge in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"Immediately after I began reporting about its increasing strength, the Taliban started threatening me. I even wrote under a pseudonym, but it didn't help," he tells RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "Eventually, I concluded that the militants could kill me anytime and leaving Pakistan was my only option," he says.

Yousafzai suffers from osteoporosis, a bone disease causing brittleness and susceptibility to fractures. He says his life in exile in Bulgaria is miserable but that he had no choice.

"After I began receiving threats from the Taliban, I fled to Buner, my home district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," he says. "But the threats followed me there. [The Taliban] network extends across the country."

Yousafzai says sharing his concerns with security officials was never an option because they had failed to help other journalists who had been threatened by militants. "I was afraid that if I went to the police, I would be in more danger," he says. "Therefore, I opted to be silent and preferred to leave the country."

Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. According to global media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 56 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992.

However, Pakistani media researcher Adnan Rehmat says more than 100 journalists and media persons have been killed and more than 2,000 injured since early 2000.

CPJ Asia director Bob Dietz says that, despite various pledges, Islamabad has failed to act on promises to end impunity for those responsible for attacking journalists. "Very few of the promises are being followed through," he says. "I have not seen a real commitment to prosecuting cases in which journalists come under attack."

Rehmat says Pakistani journalists face threats from many sides. "Until three years ago, the primary threat actors were militant groups, [mainly] sectarian and religious groups," he says. "But now we have found that the country's powerful security establishment and political parties are also involved."

In Bulgaria, Yousafzai says he hopes the situation will improve for Pakistani journalists. "I feel very sorry that I had to leave before graduating from college," he says.