Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns armed attack on the Express Media group building in Karachi on the evening of 2 December by four men on motorcycles, who threw two homemade bombs and kept shooting indiscriminately at the building for around 15 minutes. The violence of this clearly premeditated attack on a news organization was unprecedented. The building houses three Express Media newspapers – Express Tribune, Daily Express and Sindh Express – and the Express News TV station. “It is appalling that men using pistols and homemade bombs were able to target journalists for a quarter of an hour and then get away without being stopped,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The responsibility of the police needs to be examined. Why was the police car that was supposed to be guarding the building withdrawn two weeks before this attack, although the police were fully aware of the threat to this media group ever since an armed attack in August? A full investigation is needed immediately.” Employees said each of the two bomb explosions was followed by an “intense barrage” of gunfire that lasted several minutes. Security guard, Faizan Ali, and Salman Fazili of the marketing department were wounded but their injuries were not life-threatening. The police, who arrived about 10 minutes after the attackers had left, found 15 empty 9mm cartridge clips. They said the type of explosive device used suggested Taliban involvement. This was the second shooting attack on Express Media in less than four months. A gunman opened fire on the building on 16 August. After the first attack, a police car was stationed outside to protect the building but it was withdrawn without explanation two weeks ago. Express Media is regarded as a liberal news organization that promotes ethical journalism, free speech and media freedom and serves as a platform for those who combat extremism. The 2 December attack has been widely condemned. The Federal Union of Pakistani Journalists issued a statement yesterday announcing that it would organize protests throughout the country if the authorities do not arrest those responsible for the attack within 72 hours, in order to show that journalists are not an “easy target.”
In an unrelated development, Royal TV journalist Farhan Ahmed Bangash was arrested in Kohat district, near Islamabad, on 20 November in connection with his coverage of clashes on 15 November in which 10 people were killed. Seven charges have been brought against him, including “inciting violence” under the anti-terrorism law.
The Kohat Press Club has accused the police of having no evidence to support the charges. Its president, Fazal Mehmood, said it was particularly disturbing that a journalist could be charged under the anti-terrorism law.
Bangash, who insists on his innocence, was placed in pre-trial custody for an initial period of 12 days. He was subsequently transferred to a different police station for reasons that are still unknown.
The arrest and torture of another journalist, Aqeel Yousafzai, by members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) a few days ago in Peshawar has served as a reminder that violence against journalists is not the preserve of non-state actors in Pakistan. ISI is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “predators of press freedom.”
Pakistan is ranked 159th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Credit photo : The Express