Cases alleging heinous crimes have been registered against around 50 journalists in Sindh
Ashiq Jatoi, a senior journalist representing a TV channel, Sindh TV, had never thought that while reporting on miseries of the poor, kidnappings and police encounters, he would himself become a victim one day. He was named in several criminal cases, including terrorist activities and attempted murder.
On July 30 this year Jatoi, and his five journalist friends — Rutam Indar, Altaf Kalwar, Mubeen Indhar, Junaid Kalwar and Hazrat Gul Pathan — were attacked by about a dozen unidentified people, some of them masked. They were beaten brutally in front of hundreds of people before being taken away to an unknown place.
Jatoi and his friends remained in illegal confinement for many hours before they were taken to Pano Aqil police station, where a first information report (FIR) was lodged against them under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Cases were also registered against two other journalists — Shair Samejo and Irshad Rutam. An 18-year son of Rutam Indar, who visited the police station to inquire about the journalists, was also named in the same case registered on the complaint of one, Abdul Ghaffar Chahcar.
The next day, Pano Aqil police presented the seven accused before the Anti-Terrorism Court for their physical remand. The court disallowed the prosecution’s plea and removed charges of terrorism and referred the case to the district and sessions court which granted bail to all of them.
On November 4, Jatoi was again abducted from his home by unidentified people. This time he was taken to a police station in Rohri, in district Sukkur after the passage of 10 hours and an attempted murder case was registered against him. The complainant in this case was Hafiz Abdullah Chachar, cousin of Abdul Ghaffar Chachar, the complainant in the previous case. Jatoi remains locked up in Sukkur Central Jail.
Jatoi tells TNS that in the first instance he was abducted in Pano Aqil when he was on his way to his office along with other journalists. Some of the kidnappers were masked. He says they were beaten brutally at a private place and the beating was recorded on video before handing them over to Pano Aqil police. He believes he was targeted due to his reporting on smuggling of Iranian oil by local landlords in collaboration with the police.
Akhlaq Jokhio, a journalist associated with a local newspaper, was implicated in a fake case under ATA by Naushero Feroze police and sent to Sukkur Central Jail. The case was later proved fictitious and Jokhio was released after remaining in prison for seven months.
Over recent months, cases have been registered against around 50 journalists. Some of them accused of heinous crimes, including terrorism and kidnapping for ransom. Most of the cases have been registered in Sukkur. Ironically, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has directed the police recently, not to implicate those accused of other crimes under anti-terrorism provisions.
Dr. Kaleem Imam, the Sindh police, inspector general, tells TNS that the practice of implicating journalists in anti-terrorism cases is unacceptable.
He says he has issued directions to the police to not arrest any journalists in an anti-terrorism case. “The cases registered in the past would be withdrawn. In this regard, I have directed the deputy inspector general (DIG) in charge of investigation to look into the matter and withdraw the cases and remove the anti-terrorism sections immediately,” he adds.
Imam says that in cases where complaints were brought by private persons and which later proved fake, action would be taken against the complainants according to relevant laws.
The list of victims is quite long. In Pano Aqil, Nadeem Bozdar, associated with a national TV channel was abducted from his office on September 6 by masked men. Bozdar was missing for 24 hours before his arrest was reported at Kot Sabzal police station, in district Rahim Yar Khan in an extortion case.
Following a nationwide protest by journalists, Bozdar was brought back to Sukkur where SSP Irfan Samon released him claiming that he had been picked up by Punjab Police mistakenly. Bozdar tells TNS that he was kidnapped from his office by masked men who took him to Kot Sabzal police station where he was mentally tortured and warned against filing news against the police.
Journalists from all over Sindh protested in front of the Sindh Assembly against on September 19 and, staged a sit-in for many hours. Leaders of the opposition and treasury benches visited them and assured them of that their issues would be resolved.
In another incident on September 12 in Thatta district, Peeral Piasi, a journalist associated with a local newspaper was nominated in a case under Anti-Terrorism Act at Mirpur Sakro police station. The police did not disclose this to his colleagues despite repeated queries.
In Thal district of Jacobabad six journalists associated with the national media — Musa Baloch, Zafar Khoso, Razak Abro, Moosa Sarki, Mukhtiar Dol and Abbas Mastoi — were nominated in anti-terrorism cases for trying to report on mismanagement and corruption at a local government hospital. They were later granted bail by a court.
Journalist Ajeeb Lakho, associated with a local newspaper of Khairpur district, was nominated in nine cases of terrorism, kidnapping for ransom, and dealing in narcotics along with his relatives. When local journalists, and relatives, protested in front of Gambat Press Club, the police lodged an FIR under Anti-Terrorism Act against 60 people, including seven journalists.
After Lakho approached Sindh High Court against the registration of cases against him and his family members. Court, directed the police not to implicate him in any criminal case without prior permission of the court. Since that order was passed four more cases, including a kidnapping for ransom charge, have been registered against him at various police stations of the province.
Ghazi Jhandir, the president of Sindh Journalist Council (SJC) who had given the strike call against the terrorism cases against journalists tells TNS that despite their protest in front of the chief minister and other authorities the practice continues.
“In July, chief minister Murad Ali Shah, ordered a fact-finding committee to report on the issue within ten days but despite the passage of several months, no progress has been made,” Jhandir adds. He says that after the CM’s orders for an inquiry, eight more journalists were nominated under Anti-Terrorism Act.
Jhandir says the journalist community is not above the law but no person, including journalists, should be held in a false case alleging heinous crimes. He says the police officials filing false cases should be given exemplary punishments.
The head of the fact-finding committee formed by chief minister, Musadiq Khan, the secretary energy, tells TNS that the committee has done its work and the draft is ready. It will be submitted to the chief minister after vetting by committee members.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), President Afzal Butt, says implicating journalists in false cases, including terrorism and kidnapping for ransom, is wrong and a new way of curbing the freedom of expression. “This injustice is in the knowledge of the PFUJ. A strategy will be made in this regard in the upcoming meeting of the PFUJ.”
Imdad Soomro is staff reporter for The News
Saleem Jhandir is a freelance journalist based in Karachi