Moderate voices in Pakistan are silenced: Report

Last Updated: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 19:18

London: Moderate voices in Pakistan are
being silenced by the country`s military intelligence arm, the
ISI, and militant groups, a media report said on Sunday.

The murder of Mukarram Khan Atif, radio journalist, who
worked for Voice of America, by the Pakistan Taliban last
Tuesday was shocking in its brutality and brazenness, The
Sunday Times said.

Atif was praying in his mosque near Peshawar just after
sunset last Tuesday when two gunmen walked in, dragged him
outside and shot him dead.

It was the latest killing in what many describe as a
deliberate campaign by the ISI and militant groups to silence
moderate voices amid a growing crisis between government and
the country`s powerful military.

MK, as Atif was known, who was shortly to re-marry, had
been receiving death threats from militants who did not like
his reporting and demanded space on his radio programmes,
according to his colleague Babar Baig, but was "very bold and
active".

"We`re definitely seeing a deliberate attempt to silence
people," Bob Dietz, Asia director of the New York-based
Committee to Protect Journalists, said.

"Scores of Pakistani journalists have asked for
asylum, wanting us to arrange fellowships. Frankly, we`re
overwhelmed by it."

According to the report, not only has Pakistan been
the deadliest country for journalists for the past two years
but the last year has seen the killing of Salman Taseer, the
Punjab governor and Shahbaz Bhatti, a government minister.

Taseer`s son Shahzad has been missing since he was
abducted last August.

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan`s former ambassador to US, is in
hiding in the prime minister`s house, facing trial for treason
on charges widely regarded as trumped up, the report said.
He says his life is in danger.

His wife, Farahnaz Ispahani, President Asif Zardar`s
spokesman, has fled to Washington amid fears that ISI might
kidnap her to force her husband to sign a confession and
implicate the president.

"What we`re seeing is the systematic killing or
silencing of anyone who stands up to the institutionalisation
of a militarised Islamist state, who advocates positive
relations with the West or stands up for tolerance," she said.

"I`m scared. The government can`t even protect itself."
It is not just journalists who are at risk.

Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director of Human Rights
Watch, had to move his family to Britain last year after
threats to them.

Using children is another tactic fo intimidation.
One journalist who reported on Kashmiri militants had his
teenage son abducted as he left school more than a year ago.
He says ISI is holding him, and his wife has been
allowed a 10-minute visit. They are scared to go public in
case the boy is killed.

Among those who have publicly raised the issue are
Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times and host of a popular
political television show and his wife and co-editor, Jugnu
Mohsin.

After years of threats, the intimidation became so
severe last year that they were forced to move to Washington
for a couple of months.

"In the old days you`d get picked up, thrown into
prison for a couple of months, may be roughed up, then let
out. But now it`s a whole different ball game - there`s
no second chance," Sethi told the newspaper.

The couple returned home to Lahore a month ago after
his employers built a studio in their house so they would not
need to go out, and the local government gave them eight
round-the-clock police guards.

After a wave of accusations on social media sites
that he and his daughter were CIA spies, Sethi decided to go
public, describing the threats as "from both state and
non-state actors, including extremists."

He said he had given specific information to media
watchdogs at home and abroad "so if we were harmed they would
know who had done it".

According to the report, a few weeks after Bin Laden`s
death, a reporter called Saleem Shahzad, who was investigating
links between the military and al Qaeda, was abducted by ISI.
A few days later, the 40-year-old father of three
was found in a ditch, beaten to death.

An international outcry prompted a rare commission of
inquiry, which released its report last week.

It apportioned no blame but stated: "The commission
is convinced that there are sufficient reasons to believe that
the agencies, including ISI, have been using coercive and
intimidating tactics in dealing with journalists who
antagonise the agency`s interest. "

PTI



First Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 - 19:16

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