Almost a martyr

Shahzad Raza
An assassination attempt on Raza Rumi raises questions about safety of journalists

Almost a martyr

Raza Rumi is among few of those foolhardy who challenge the extremists in fourth most dangerous country for the journalists. It was only a miracle that he evaded bullets in a brazen assassination attempt. Otherwise, God forbid, there would have been an addition to a specific list of martyrs.

Statistics of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) show more than 70 journalists were assassinated during the last 22 years in Pakistan – a country only better than Iraq, Syria and Egypt as far as safety of journalists is concerned.

Rumi had words. His enemies had guns. Raza used his words to condemn massacres of innocent people in the streets of Pakistan. The enemies emptied their magazines to silence him. They failed. And the defiant journalist vowed to carry on with what he was already doing.

In both public and private, Rumi had expressed concerns of threats to his life. His bold stance against Taliban militants and proscribed outfits certainly enraged them. Shooters were dispatched to take him out. The mission failed, but the assassins are still at large – probably lurking around waiting for another chance.

The war of narratives has taken a dangerous turn in Pakistan. As one side cannot win the argument, it resorts to violence. It justifies its violent actions in the name of Islam. Since the dialogue process started a few months ago, the preachers and perpetrators of violence seem to have assumed a certain legitimacy.

In this so-called war, journalists are the most exposed and vulnerable targets. The holy warriors are not the only threat they face. According to Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF) the most dangerous area for journalists in Pakistan is not Mir Ali or Wana, but district Khuzdar which is located in the centre of Balochistan province.

“The province’s media are caught in the crossfire between the security forces and armed separatists. The murder of Javed Naseer Rind, a former assistant editor of the Daily Tawar newspaper, was the latest example. His body was found on 5 November, nearly three months after he was abducted. An anti-separatist group calling itself the Baloch Musallah Defa Army issued a hit-list at the end of November naming four journalists as earmarked for assassination,” the RSF said.

It’s an attack on the state of Pakistan, the Constitution of Pakistan and the freedom of press

“It is unfortunate the media houses are not united against this threat. Whenever, any violent incident on a journalist or any organization takes place, the others just black it out,” said senior anchor Ejaz Haider.

He said providing security to journalists was the responsibility of the government and the organizations who they work for.

A few months ago, intelligence agencies found out the names of journalists who were on the hit list of terrorists. The list got leaked somehow and became a subject of public discourse. The journalists on the list had to restrict their public appearances. However, the threat remained.

Rumi said if the list was genuine, the government had to explain what actions it had taken to ensure the safety of the journalists under threat. He said silencing the media was tantamount to strangulating the entire society.

“The attack was not made on me. It’s an attack on the state of Pakistan, the Constitution of Pakistan and the freedom of press,” he said.

The war on terror in Pakistan is, in fact, the war of narratives. And there are few liberal voices being heard in this specific war. Provided those voices are silenced, the war will certainly be over.

Three stakeholders – journalists, media owners and the state – must cooperate with each other, observed Iqbal Khattak who works with Reporters without Borders. He asked the government to share intelligence pertaining to the threats on journalists.

Anchor Wasim Badami asked why journalists should risk their lives by challenging militants and extremists when the government does not have any intention to do the same.

“When I go home, my family asks me to stop criticizing Taliban militants. They ask me why I am inviting trouble in the face of a spineless government,” he said. The view is shared by other prime-time anchors of major networks.

While the government is to be blamed for failing to protect journalists from hostile elements, the responsibility also rests on the organizations they work for. Not every working journalist in Pakistan has life insurance.

It is safe to assume the situation vis-à-vis journalists in Pakistan is unlikely to change. However, they will brave the odds and will not lose the spirit Rumi and ilk have shown.

Shahzad Raza is a journalist based in Islamabad.

This article was first published in The Friday Times

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