Threats to Journalists: When Will the Court Take Notice?

Dec 21st, 2011 | By | Category: Geo TV, Threats to Journalists

gunFor the second year in a row, Pakistan has been awarded the dubious title of ‘deadliest nation for journalists’ according to the international organization Committee to Protect Journalists. The most shocking event, obviously, was the brutal murder of Saleem Shahzad, a case that has followed the usual path to a dusty shelf where it will remain unsolved. But Saleem Shahzad was not the only journalist to lose his life in Pakistan. At least six other journalists were killed here – more than both Libya and Iraq. There are countless others who continue their work under constant threat. When will the court take notice?

Actually, the judiciary and journalism share some common traits. Both are intended to be a search for truth – a careful investigation of facts intended to help steer the nation on the right path. At times the work of journalists and judges overlaps as with the recent example of the ‘memogate’ controversy that grew from the claims made in an op-ed that were further publicised by additional news articles. Long before the Supreme Court took notice of the memo, it was a media story.

The most recent development of the memogate saga occurred recently when a British newspaper reported that one overlooked item from Mansoor Ijaz’s claims was that DG ISI Gen Pasha was secretly meeting with Arab leaders in preparation for a coup against the civilian government. ISPR has denied Mansoor Ijaz’s claim, terming the Independent piece “a baseless article”.

While an official denial is to be expected, Geo anchor Hamid Mir who reported on Mansoor Ijaz’s accusation against Gen Pasha reports that he has received death threats for reporting the story.

Dear Friends,

I would like to inform you that I received an SMS message at my blackberry today at 11:47 pm which said “i have not seen a real bastard than you. i wish somebody comes and strip you naked. i hope some Army man has not done real dirty with your dear ones.” This SMS was reaction of my show Capital Talk which was going on at that time on Geo TV in a repeat telecast.

I responded to this SMS and I got another message from the same number again (03335245252). Within few seconds another SMS from 03318175319 declared me a CIA, RAW and MOSSAD agent. I have received these kinds of threatening messages usually from intelligence agencies in the past. When I responded these messages quickly and told them to go court against me they were silent.

These recent threats are related to two recent shows on Geo TV. I discussed a story in The Independent in the UK reported by Omar Warraich on December 14th and raised questions about the political role of DG ISI [Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate Ahmad Shuja Pasha]. A constitutional petition was filed by [Community Party Chairman] Engineer Jamil Malik on December 19th in the Supreme Court of Pakistan [asking the court to remove Gen. Pasha] and I was included in the petition as one of the respondents. I came to know about this petition in the evening of December 19th. The same evening I discussed the press conference of Baloch leader Attaullah Mengal on my TV show. Mengal criticized Pakistan Army atrocities against Balochis. This show was aired in the evening of December 19th and repeated in the morning of December 20th between 11 and 12.

I am sure that security establishment of Pakistan is once again angry with all those who will raise questions about the political role of Army. If anything bad happens with me or my “dear ones” the security establishment will be responsible.

Hamid Mir

As Pakistan holds the dubious distinction of being ‘deadliest nation for journalists’ two years running, these threats should raise the interest of the Chief Justice as a matter of national interest. But in this most recent case, the issue should be of special interest to the court. The memo case is presently sub judice, which means that any threat against journalists reporting on the case are meant not only to influence journalists, but the outcome of a case also.

Media cannot be considered as independent if it is operating with a gun to its head. Neither can a judiciary be independent if any element is allowed to use threats of violence and death to influence the outcome of a case. How long must Pakistani journalists search for the truth without the protection of the court? And how long will the court allow its own independence to be questioned by ignoring this issue?

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