Attacks on journalists

19 Mar 2016

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ON Wednesday, the courts in Karak district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, awarded life imprisonment and a fine of Rs5 million to one of the men accused of gunning down in cold blood journalist Ayub Khattak on Oct 11, 2013.

While grief cannot be assuaged, that the long wait for justice — nearly two years in this case — is finally over and the murderer is behind bars may bring much-needed closure to the family of Mr Khattak.

The circumstances of his death say much about the dangerous terrain journalists in this country must traverse in the pursuit of their duties.

Mr Khattak had been a reporter for the daily Karak Times and had published a story regarding drug smuggling and the sale of illicit substances in the area, as a result of which police action was initiated.

According to the counsel for the complainant, after delivering several death threats, the defendants intercepted Mr Khattak’s motorcycle that day and shot him dead at point-blank range.

If the circumstances of the killing tell a story, so does that of the sentencing. That the trial took two years to wind through the justice system is regrettable enough.

But even more of an indictment is found in the fact that Mr Khattak’s case is only the third one in the country’s history where the killers of journalists have been identified, apprehended and convicted.

Since 2000, well over 100 journalists and media workers have been killed in Pakistan in the course of their duties. But trial and conviction has been achieved only in the cases of Daniel Pearl and Wali Khan Babar, and now in the case of Mr Khattak.

No wonder, then, that those who would harass and intimidate journalists — be they criminals, militants or even elements within the state apparatus — operate with brazen impunity.

The situation must be rectified, urgently. It is imperative that the state vigorously pursue all cases where media workers have been targeted, thereby sending out the signal that tactics of intimidation will not be tolerated.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2016