Pakistan: a month of silence for journalists in Balochistan

A month after armed groups began silencing the press in the southwestern province of the Balochistan when their ultimatum expired on 24 October, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) appeals to the province’s separatist rebels and to the Pakistani intelligence agencies to leave journalists out of the conflict.

No newspapers have circulated in almost half of Balochistan’s districts for the past month. Grenades have been thrown and building facades have been raked with bullets. Journalists have closed 23 press clubs for fear of reprisals. Reporters, media workers and newspaper vendors are all now potential victims of these rebel groups.

“This situation might appear absurd if it were not for the level of violence,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The freedom to inform is essential for starting a dialogue and for conflict resolution. Like intelligence agency intimidation, preventing the distribution of newspapers can only make the situation worse. We urge all parties to let journalists do their work because it is vital for the public interest in the province.”

At the start of the year, Pakistani intelligence agents began contacting Balochi journalists and ordering them to stop covering any statements by the province’s armed separatist groups.

In retaliation, two rebel groups said they would respond with violence against local newspapers if they had not resumed covering the separatist struggle by 24 October. RSF and its partner in Pakistan Freedom Network launched a security fund in order to provide assistance to journalists in imminent danger.

As in the rest of Pakistan, where the army functions as a state within the state, coverage of security issues is off limits for the media. Journalists who cross this red line are liable to be harassed, arrested or murdered.

But the situation is even tenser in the unstable province of Balochistan, where around 40 journalists have been killed in the past decade. Death threats by both rebel groups and intelligence agencies are frequent.

Balochistan’s armed groups have been on RSF’s 2013 list of “Press Freedom Predators”. Pakistan’s intelligence services were added to the new list published in 2016. Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 24.11.2017