Posts Tagged ‘Kamran Shafi’

Pakistan’s journalists abandoned by the courts

Friday, January 13th, 2012

This week marked a dark day in the history of Pakistani journalism. The last refuge of justice in our country closed the door to the journalist community, and sent a message loud and clear that Pakistan’s journalists have no rights when faced with threats from powerful quarters. We are referring, of course, to the judicial whitewashing of the murder of Saleem Shahzad.

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It is ironic that so much has been made lately of Article 19A, the right to information, which should be a shield of protection for journalists in a nation with a supposedly free media, and yet it is apparent that the right to expose who is murdering journalists in this country and why has been set aside for reasons unstated. Rather than exposing the Saleem Shahzad’s killers and sending a message to those who would threaten and kill other journalists, the judicial commission instead found no culprits, only suggested a payment of Rs3 Million to Shahzad’s widow. Now we know the value of a journalist in Pakistan – about the cost of two Corollas.

Writing in The News today, senior journalist and former secretary Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Mazhar Abbas notes that journalists are effectively on our own.

“The authorities are not taking the issue seriously enough, particularly in cases where the “intelligence agencies” come into the equation. Therefore, Pakistani journalists need to fight their own cases with the effective support of their unions.”

This state of affairs has serious consequences not only for the lives of individual journalists, but for the security of the nation itself. Director current affairs at Dunya TV Nasim Zehra on Thursday proposed that “a vibrant media can thwart a coup” by ensuring that,

…the moves of all power players — government, politicians, army, and now the judiciary — are examined for historical precedents, legality, constitutionality, double standards; and whether they are based on individual, institutional, party or national interests.

Unfortuantely, Nasim’s theory is based on a false premise. Media cannot scrutinise the moves of all power players. Yes, Dunya TV will courageously repeat worn out conspiracy theories about Husain Haqqani while he sits behind heavy security, but following the judicial commission’s failure to find anyone responsible for the killing of Saleem Shahzad?

Having seen that a prominent reporter can be killed with no consequences for those involved is sure to have a chilling effect on the profession. Will those who report critically on the military refrain from doing so in the future for fear that they may end up in a ditch somewhere? The commission has also shown Mr Shahzad’s killers, whoever they may be, that they can operate with impunity.

It is not only Saleem Shahzad who has been killed for reporting information that someone did not like. Zahid Qureshi was tortured and mutilated for his reporting. Umar Cheema was kidnapped and tortured when he reported information that upset someone. Kamran Shafi had his family home strafed with gunfire and received threatening phone calls warning him to stop reporting information that some didn’t like. Samaa TV’s Ghulamuddin and his family have been forced into hiding in their own country. Recently, Hamid Mir has received threats for his reporting. Najam Sethi, who has been the subject of what appeared to be a coordinated campaign of harrassment continues to receive threats for his reporting.

Journalists are not powerless, though. We have the ability to ask difficult questions and press for information that most people are unable or unwilling to. While the nation’s attention is planted squarely on the court, we should take the opportunity to ask, “What about Saleem Shahzad?” What about the rights of the people to information that is supposedly so inalienable? Demanding these answers will not only protect the lives of journalists, it will protect the life of the nation. There are murderers among us, and they must be exposed.

Is Media Freedom a Cruel Hoax?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

media muzzleIn 2009, Kamran Shafi’s home was strafed with gunfire after he was warned not to report about security agencies. In 2010, Umar Cheema was abducted and tortured. Umar Cheema was lucky – he survived. In 2011, Saleem Shahzad was abducted and tortured to death, his body dumped on a canal bank in Mandi Bahauddin.

None of the perpetrators of these attacks have been caught, but in each case suspicion has fallen on members of national agencies. In the latest incident involving Saleem Shahzad, Senior Researcher Human Rights Watch Ali Dayan Hasan again suspects the invisible hand of security agencies.

Human Rights Watch says it was able to establish that Shahzad was being held by the ISI. “We were informed through reliable interlocutors that he was detained by the ISI,” says Hasan. Those interlocutors, he adds, had received direct confirmation from the agency that it was detaining Shahzad. In any case, Hasan says, “in a high-security zone like Islamabad, it is only the ISI that can effect the disappearance of man and his car without a trace.”

Human Rights Watch was also told that Shahzad was supposed to return home on Monday night. “The relevant people were informed that his telephone would be switched on first, enabling him to communicate with his family,” says Hasan. “They were told that he would return home soon after.” But by 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Shahzad had still not been heard from. At that point, Hasan recalled that Shahzad had sent him an e-mail on Oct. 18, 2010, that was to be released in the event of his disappearance. At the time, says Hasan, he was “fairly sure that sooner or later something was going to happen.” Human Rights Watch says it has made repeated attempts to contact Pakistan’s government and establish Shahzad’s whereabouts, but has received no response.

Nor can this suspicion be considered as part of a political agenda of one media group against the government since each of these journalists worked for different media groups. The only thing linking them was their willingness to investigate and report on the workings of the agencies.

Intelligence agencies have long been considered to use media as puppets in internal battles and for shaping public opinion about national issues, and suspicions about involvement in vote rigging and supporting political parties to influence the national direction have also been long held. Like the case of abduction and torture of Umar Cheema, though, investigations into these suspicions always result in a dead end.

As the nation has begun to demand answers related to issues of national importance including the Abbottabad case and the attack on our naval base in Karachi, confusion has been reigning supreme in the media. From bizarre and condradictory headlines on the front page of major newspapers, to the spread of conspiracy theories from propaganda rings associated with ex-officials.

Now that Saleem Shahzad has had his life stolen, the question has moved to the forefront of people’s minds, and the eyes of the world are focused on the national intelligence agencies. However, it should be noted that as yet other than anecdotal evidence and suspicions, there has not been proof made of the intelligence agencies being responsible.

But whether or not agencies are responsible, the current sentiments point to an important quesiton – Can the media be truly free if there is a fear that journalists live under threat for reporting on sensitive topics?

An independent investigation must be carried out not only to obtain justice for Salmaan Shahzad which is of course the first priority, but also to lift the weight of uncertainty about safety for journalists in the country. If national agencies are not involved, that needs to be shown by more than only the word of the agencies themselves. If the agencies are not responsible, they need to be cleared so that journalists can continue their work without being silenced by the “chilling effect” of living under the fear of harm.

On the other hand, if some member of a national agency acting either under orders or as a rogue element has been harassing and threatening journalists, these should be exposed and removed from their positions so that the agencies can no longer be considered a threat to media freedom.

Whoever was responsible for the death of Saleem Shahzad, the abduction of Umar Cheema, the shooting at Kamran Shafi house – these individuals cannot continue to go unknown if we are to truly have a free and independent media. Media freedom requires more than spreading sensational rumours and slandering politicians. If certain holy cows remain off limits to honest and objective reporting, then media freedom is nothing but a cruel hoax.

Raymond Davis Case Is Sub Judice, Not Sub Media

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Raymond Davis surrounded by media cameras

There is nothing positive about a tragedy such as occurred last week when an American Consulate employee shot two men and a third died in a vehicular accident involving another American Consulate employee. Unfortunately, some in the media have taken the opportunity of this tragedy to promote confusion, conspiracy theories, and political agendas instead of presenting the facts. In some instances, there are even suggestions that the media is covering up some facts that are deemed inconvenient to a specific political agenda.

Kamran Shafi succinctly describes the various and contradictory ways the Raymond Davis case has been presented in the media:

He is alleged to be, variously, a spy, a Blackwater operative, a security guard and a US diplomat. There are as many stories about the man in our press as there are reporters in the newspapers, not one of them leading the reader to any conclusion.

In just one day we are regaled by differing accounts in different newspapers: one saying David had overstayed his visa by two years, another telling us his visa was valid until 2012; one saying he was not a diplomat, yet another telling us that he was an ‘official’, and so on and so forth. I have been following this case since the day of the shooting, have read every word written about it, and have to say that I am most confused. Nothing makes sense at all — a lot of which has to do with the conspiracy theorists and the and their spin quacks putting a spin on any aspect they can get their hands on.

In what is already a case filled with questions, media coverage is actually adding to the confusion rather than cutting through it. What is worst, Kamran notes that one eye witness account from the scene has disappeared from reporting.

What I myself saw on the very day of the shooting, about two hours after the event, was the interview of a young man off the street, conducted by a loud and vociferous channel. When asked what he had seen the man said: “pistol” (“The two motorcyclists drew their pistols to rob the foreigner [using the near-pejorative term , or Whitey] who shot them dead”). This was repeated twice in a period of 30 or so minutes and then taken off air. This is what I saw and heard myself. It is pertinent to note that that young man has not been seen, nor heard from, again. Neither has any newspaper quoted what he said on record.

Could it be that media is self-censoring this eye witness account because it is inconvenient to a specific political agenda?

Thankfully, one journalist is standing out in the crowd – Najam Sethi. As Cafe Pyala notes, Sethi “began his new programme Aapas Ki Baat with the warning that he wanted to put emotionalism aside and analyse the incident only in terms of the facts“. This was indeed a breath of fresh air.

Najam Sethi on Aapas Ki BaatNot only did Sethi cite the actual clauses of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity (which Pakistan has ratified) that have been furiously talked about but never actually specifically referenced, but also put into context the whole issue in light of contemporary history and geopolitical realities. Now, others may question his interpretations of the Vienna Convention or the heretofore unknown ‘facts’ he presented as definite realities (we have no way of determining their veracity but he did stake his reputation on their authenticity), but I hope such challenges, if they do come, will be based on proof rather than vague emotionalism.

Cafe Pyala provides as comparison the way the issue was handled by Kamran Khan and his guest Shireen Mazari who trots out the old conspiracy theory that Ambassador Husain Haqqani is issuing visas to ‘suspicious foreigners’ in effort to somehow connect him to the Raymond Davis case. But as Dawn reports today, Raymond Davis’s visa was not issued by the Washington Embassy.

Diplomatic sources in Islamabad said that Raymond Davis had first received a three-month diplomatic visa on a diplomatic passport on request of the US State Department in September 2009. That is the only visa issued to him by the Pakistan embassy in Washington.

On that occasion, the State Department had said Davis would be visiting Pakistan for a short term as a technical adviser. Subsequently, Davis received extensions to his visa in Islamabad or elsewhere.

His presence in Pakistan after the expiry of his first visa in December 2009 was neither known to nor authorised by the Pakistan embassy in Washington or the Foreign Office.

Why Shireen Mazari brings up Husain Haqqani in a discussion of the Raymond Davis case is a question that should be asked. It is already established that the Embassy in Washington did not issue the visas, so why is it entering the debate? Kamran Khan and Shireen MazariIt appears that this is another example of media personalities using tragic events to promote a particular political agenda rather than simply providing and commenting on the facts.

Stories like the Raymond Davis case are delicate diplomatic matters between states, and it is imperative that the people have the facts straight so that they understand why government officials take whatever actions they deem necessary. It is also important that the facts are presented objectively so that the officials responsible for making decisions at such a highly diplomatic level are not confused or misled in their own right.

The Raymond Davis case is more than simply a diplomatic mess, though – it is a question of specific facts and laws. In other words, it is a legal case. There has been much complaining in the media about US officials trying to influence the government one way or the other. These journalists should take their own advice. Presently the matter is sub judice and not sub media.

Merey Mutabiq Using Misleading Edits?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Editing Merey MutabiqThe following paragraph comes from Kamran Shafi’s column in today’s Dawn:

I made the mistake of my life when I appeared, against better counsel, on Dr Shahid Masood’s Meray Mutabiq which was recorded and then edited. And by golly was it edited! Suffice it to say that I was shocked out of my wits, and greatly saddened, at the show as aired.

This is most interesting. Is Dr. Shahid Masood using editing to mislead his viewers and misrepresent his guests? This is always a danger with TV, and it’s hard to know what is real and what has been edited, especially with the advanced technology in today’s software. It would be interesting to know more about the situation here, and to get a glimpse “behind the curtain” at these TV programmes.

Is Media Intentionally Trying To Destabilize Government?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

That’s the concern of Kamran Shafi, who sees the invocation of the name of the Chief Justice as a cynical plot by some media types who are willing to put government on a collision course in order to to increase viewership for their TV programmes.

I was horrified to see recently a private TV channel advertising one of their talk shows with the blurb ‘Chief teray jan nisar…’ and then the names A.H. Pirzada, Akram Sheikh and one other that I do not recall.

The host of the show is the same person who was appointed head of PTV at a whopping salary and even more whopping perks but was sacked for reasons never fully explained, turning fiercely anti-federal government and all who sail in it.

In the event I could not see the first part of the programme for I was entertaining guests at the time so I do not know if the two gentlemen named in the advertising ticker appeared on the show. But I did manage to catch Imran Khan and Qazi Anwar, in the closing minutes, fulminating wildly against the government, 18th Amendment and all.

Now then, whilst it is no business of mine what anyone says about any government or person or matter, it is my bounden duty to protest the use of the chief justice’s name to push a TV talk show. Remember that ‘Chief teray jan nisar, beshumar, beshumar’ was one of the slogans coined during the movement to restore the superior judiciary, and one that I myself have shouted until I went hoarse.

My Lord the Chief Justice was particularly mentioned in the slogan because he it was that took the brave step of facing down an army dictator and his boorish flunkeys. We must remember too that some of those who are now professing (or are alleged) to be My Lord’s jan nisars are the same who were Dogar’s jan nisars during the days he was the so-called chief justice. They appeared in Dogar’s court, when the restored judiciary was incarcerated along with their families and protesting lawyers had boycotted the higher courts. To add insult to injury, one of their number is Ahmad Raza Kasuri who was the Commando’s own lawyer when the dictator was at loggerheads with the CJ. Can you believe any of this, reader?

Let me say that whilst I continue to be a jan nisar of an independent judiciary, I also stand unequivocally on the side of the people’s will as expressed by their representatives in parliament, of the rule of law, of a kind and gentle state which looks after all of its people no matter of which religious denomination or creed.

Whilst I stand for complete freedom of expression, I will loudly object when media houses deliberately goad organs of the state onto a collision course as seems to be happening right now. It is time for all concerned to step back, take two deep breaths, and live and let live.

Pakistani Journalist Kamran Shafi Threatened, Shot At

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009
Pakistani Journalist and Military Veteran Kamran Shafi

Pakistani Journalist and Military Veteran Kamran Shafi

In more evidence of the growing threat to free media in Pakistan, veteran journalist Kamran Shafi’s house was strafed with gunfire over the weekend.

The shooting comes after repeated threats to Mr. Shafi’s life by telephone and warnings to him not to continue writing about security in Pakistan.

Police report that they have made no headway in identifying the shooters or those threatening Mr. Shafi. The woman caller, according to Mr. Shafi, spoke in broken Urdu.

Most troubling about this attack is that, when the shooter let loose a hail of bullets on Mr. Shafi’s home, he was celebrating Eid holiday with his wife and daughter who could have been killed in the attack. This demonstrates that not only are these killers intending to silence free and open media discussion in Pakistan, they are willing to commit the most devious of murders to get their way.

In addition to the obvious threats to the journalist and freedom of the media in Pakistan, this incident has not gone unnoticed in the international media and serves as an embarrassment for Pakistan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has already condemned Pakistani newspaper The Nation for endangering the life of an American journalist, wrote that this is evidence of Pakistan’s media environment deteriorating:

“CPJ condemns this attack on such a prominent Pakistani journalist,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Pakistan’s media environment is declining rapidly as a consequence of the political and military strife erupting under the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Local and foreign journalists are coming under threat from all sides to the country’s many conflicts. Increasingly, Pakistan’s free press is under a threat almost as menacing as that under former president Pervez Musharraf ,” added Dietz.

I have written before about how threatening journalists threatens press freedom. Then, I was writing about Ahmed Quraishi’s dismissal of concerns about the safety of American journalist Matthew Rosenberg. But as the attempted murder of Kamran Shafi clearly proves, it is not just American journalists whose lives are increasingly in danger.

A free and unbiased media is the cornerstone to a healthy and stable democracy. By threatening journalists, the people involved in this incident have proven themselves to be enemies of our democracy. By using violence to try to intimidate and threaten innocent people, they have proven themselves to be nothing but terrorists.