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Silenced once again

Published May 31, 2011 06:22pm


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Syed Saleem Shahzad has joined the unacceptably long list of over 70 journalists who have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan since 2000. -Reuters Photo

Murder is the severest form of censorship and a brave Pakistani journalist has just offered proof with his life. Syed Saleem Shahzad has joined the unacceptably long list of over 70 journalists who have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan since 2000. How has Pakistan become the most dangerous country to practice journalism?

Fundamentalism, extremism and militancy have brutalised Pakistani society since proxies that Pakistan has nurtured for two decades took on America in Afghanistan in the early part of the last decade.

As the conflict between the US and al Qaeda spilled over from Afghanistan into Pakistan, the need for reporting it grew enormously as did the attendant risks of doing so.

As fate would have it, the evolution of Pakistan’s independent broadcast media coincided with the rise of terrorism in the country as did the expansion of the al Qaeda-US fight and the co-option of Pakistan-based militants into this battle.

And as the state of Pakistan allied itself optically with the US in the war on terrorism, it marked out the military, civil society and the media as enemies of al Qaeda and its fighting forces in Pakistan represented by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The violence that has engulfed Pakistan for the last decade did not leave the media immune to its consequences.

While there have been journalists who have been killed in bomb blasts in markets, processions and funerals across the country, caught in the wrong place and wrong time, the last three years have seen a rise against target killings of journalists in Pakistan. At least 17 have been killed this way.

The number of journalists who were target-killed grew sharply after the media stopped self-censoring themselves too much in the wake of the footage of a girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat, which proved a turning point in the media losing its fear of the Taliban.

This was the beginning of a more unrestrained narrative on terrorism which injected grim realism in reporting. The consequence of the media finding that the public was receptive to this kind of reporting promoted a culture of risk taking which first generated warnings from the Taliban to the media to “behave”. When there was no major change in the behavior and attitude of the media, the killings began.

From the tribal areas in the mountainous northwest to the coastal areas in the sandy southeast, Pakistani journalists have been hounded and killed for reporting the brutalities of a war that has claimed the lives of over 30,000 in Pakistan over the last 10 years.

While over 70 have been killed, a staggering 2,000-plus have been injured, arrested or kidnapped – a large number of them by the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf.

But while the militants had been hounding and hurting the journalists since 2002, the “Musharraf treatment” added a new dimension to the policy of intolerance for media openness and pluralisms.

In one single instance nearly 120 journalists were arrested in Karachi in one fell swoop and in another single incident about 140 in Islamabad by Musharraf’s thugs. It is this state sanction for this kind of intolerance of media independence that has now allowed the level of impunity where many journalists have been killed with the suspicion for most falling on the security establishment.

The fact that the killers of not even one Pakistani journalist killed has been found, prosecuted and punished has meant the media has been an easy target.

Saleem’s death is not ordinary even among the long list of journalists killed in Pakistan in recent years. Because his last news story attempted to establish that the security establishment had been in talks with al Qaeda to negotiate a deal that would prevent attacks on it, it is reasonable to assume that this claim was linked with his kidnap, torture and murder.

He had told a friend a day after the report was published that this was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and that he would be filing a couple of major stories that would rattle many.

Whether it was the security establishment that killed him or the declared terrorists, the fact is he was killed for daring to attempt to share information that affected the country and its people.

The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen, not murder. Saleem’s death signals that dirty secrets will not easily be allowed to be shared with the people of Pakistan.

He, as well as the others in the long list of Pakistan’s brave journalists who have given their lives in the pursuit of being the guardians of public interest, deserves our lasting gratitude for being the watchdog of our interests.

They were purveyors of light in a land where the shadows grow long. May they rest in eternal peace. May there not be another Pakistani journalist who in the pursuit of news becomes a news item himself.

Adnan Rehmat is a journalist, analyst and media development specialist. He heads Intermedia, a Pakistani media support NGO.


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Comments (32) Closed

sujatha rangaswami May 31, 2011 11:56pm
the only valid censorship of ideas is to not listen ...well said indeed - valid for any place time and people. A terrible price to pay for expressing one's views - murder is. I hope one day the truth comes out and a legal price is exacted for such deaths. I can only commend the bravery of those who have not been afraid to speak up despite such acts of violence.
Andrea Whittaker Jun 01, 2011 01:42am
He was a very brave man
milan Jun 01, 2011 03:11am
krishnan Jun 01, 2011 05:58am
So sad.Dawn correspondents also should take care.If the top brass of the Army is clean,the best way of showing it , is for them to make a public exposure of all the rogue elements asap.
syed Jun 01, 2011 07:41am
Instead of bashing Musharraf you should realize that Media thrived in his tenure however it does not mean that we should overlook the mistakes of his govt. The problem right now is that all parts of the society one or the other have been co opted into corrupt practices so much so that all of us are now working towards weakening the country. We are termites eating away the wood in which we live May Allah save us.
Entero Jun 01, 2011 08:20am
"May there not be a Pakistani journalist,who in the pursuit of news,becomes a news item himself".Aameen! Well Said! Jun 01, 2011 08:23am
I am from India. I feel very sad for this person, his family and for the people of Pakistan. This is a very sad day. This is not killing of a person, but, silencing the voice of truth and reason.
An Indian Jun 01, 2011 09:29am
This proves that cruelty is still alive in Pakistan, but extraordinary courage lives there too. I salute Syed Saleem Shahzad and other reporters who knowingly put themselves in danger each day, in order to uncover the truth. We all now have a duty to make sure that the murderers are caught and punished.
Virendra Jun 01, 2011 09:32am
I was a regular reader of Saleem's articles on Asia Times. I know he would be missed by many like me. It was a risk and he knew it clearly but he loved and lived his job. God bless.
AjitKumar Jun 01, 2011 09:39am
Syed Saleem Shahzad's cruel murder is a great blow to the Pakistan’s independent broadcast media and must be condemned by one and all. Is Seeking truth,relentless and fearless approach towards ones duty is the price one has to pay in a democratic country? His loss is not only a loss to Pakistan but to Mankind.May his soul rest in peace.
Syed Jun 01, 2011 09:53am
70 in 10 years, it shows the system is degrading gradually. Condolences to Saleem's family. We all die but only few die for a worthy cause and standing up for what they believe. I have a great respect for ISI but I wonder why they are implicated everytime something bad happens. Guys, where are we heading?
PP Jun 01, 2011 10:10am
May god bless his soul & may his soul rest in peace. He was a brave man coz he knew of some wrong things going on in there. Still he was not afraid & he kept working on that. He is a real Martyr for truth & humanity.
Murgi Chor Mullah Jun 01, 2011 11:13am
Pakistan seems to be the most dangerous country for any aspect of Civilisation. It is Country like Pakistan , with its vision less hate inspired model of society building that has done immense damage to the idea of Islam. The fact is majority of Islamic /Musim majority countries be it Turkey, Malaysia,Bangladesh, many Middle east/North African states are quite peaceful and generally tolerant of others. We in India are not so much scared of the disintegration of the state of Pakistan rather the distegration of whatever remains of Rationality and civil thinking in your society.
Shahbaz Jun 01, 2011 11:24am
Its very sad and hurting that journalists are being killed. There could be only two sides of it....first he wrtoe truth for which he is murdered......Second he wrote with wrong intentions with certain targets to damage the perceptions of security agencies.....whatever the case may be.....he should have not be killed...if he have said something wrong..then he should have brought to justice via courts..........and if he has said truth...then this is uforgivable crime....culprits should be brought to justice even if these are security agencies or whatsoever and where ever.
shalabh Jun 01, 2011 11:37am
god bless pakistan :)
gautam saha Jun 01, 2011 11:41am
Investigative journalism is the conscience of our times, and prevents us from going blind and deaf to all the injustices in life. Investigative journalists who probe matters of social context are the cream of any society. To kill one of them is to kill our own conscience, and to relive the law of the jungle. The killers should be brought to justice, and all the journalists of the world should raise their voices in unison to put an end to this cowardice once and for all. An honest journalist is not only an asset to his own country but to the whole world. I salute Syed Saleem Shahzad ! My Pak brothers, please put an end to this madness within your own society. We are not your enemies. We only want to live in peace. It is the illiterate and socially deprived persons in your society, who need an "agenda" to keep alive their dreams and their so called "alignment" with the holy scriptures to justify their hate filled agenda.
Bhaksara Jun 01, 2011 11:41am
My condolences to this brave journalist. If the powerful security establishment and ISI is behind these crimes who can help Pakistani people and their press.
Dr. Fareeha Khanum Jun 01, 2011 12:16pm
Please don't blame every thing on Musharraf. please don't forget its Musharraf who allowed such a free press and media. None of the previous so called democratic government did that. Nature wise Musharraf is more democratic than any of the civilian leadership including Bhutto.
Abbas Jun 01, 2011 12:58pm
This just goes to show how scared the militants are of the truth about them. If more people in Pakistan could read things might be a lot different, the words of these brave reporters might reach more people. A sad loss to Pakistan,the media and truth.
Murari Jha Jun 01, 2011 02:06pm
The murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad is the real breach of the Pakistan's sovereignty. I am sure this brazen act was not of an outsider but someone deep within society. We must be prepared to die Syed Saleem Shahzad's death if we want to salvage Pakistan. My condolence to the family of Mr. Shahzad. Long live the legacy of courage, Long Live Shahzad!
GKrishnan Jun 01, 2011 02:58pm
" In the pursuit of news, becomes a news item himself ". Your concluding line said it all. Every scribe anywhere in the sub-continent would have had a chill running up his spine at this horrendous happening. Heartfelt condolences to his family, and may his soul rest in peace.
anil Jun 01, 2011 02:58pm
Very sad loss of life of a brave man. Only people like him can change the society for the better but difficult for them to speak their mind.
jalil Jun 01, 2011 02:59pm
Dr Freeha comment is conradictory in nature and against the wisdom. How an unlawful regime of Pervaiz Mushraf was expected to do some work which was inherently against the dictoms of dictatorship. It is a very wrong notion and history will not excuse our Nation for supporting wrong.
Noor Jun 01, 2011 03:21pm
Well Dr. Fareeha, a dictator can't be democratic at all. An armyman knows two things, obey and order. Nothing in between. Do you understand Dr! how this gentleman has harmed Pakistan. No, I don't think you understand this otherwise you won't praise mush. Just imagine 11 years back, we used to go to our village passing thru Dara Adam Khel anytime day or night and one would feel safer comparatively. But now everything has become upside down. No power, no water, no jobs, why should I praise mush.
arjun Jun 01, 2011 03:42pm
we all have to understand that one day its not the americans , not the indians , not the chinese , not the pakistanis , not the taliban but HATE thats killing all of us .
Sajid Khan Jun 01, 2011 03:54pm
How many people were missing in Pakistan during Musharafs time.did you forget how he killed and the buldozed the students in lal Masjid.and how many Pakistanis were handed over to US.
Khan Jun 01, 2011 05:17pm
Noor, Ever heard of Chemotherapy?? Before Musharraf we were letting the cancer to spread so We had/have to treat it before we are doomed .. DAK was never a safe place for common people, wasn't it these areas which was a shelter for criminals and murderers? Sajid, No one was missing from my family or friends so 'THOSE' people must have done something wrong that only they got missing or handed over to the US .. I don't want my country to be next Hiroshima or Nagasaki so better remove these refugees, chechens, Arabs, uzbeks etc out of our borders ASAP.
Vinny Jun 01, 2011 05:40pm
I guess in previous so called democratic government rule the media was not given enough liberty to say how many people went missing... i remember benazir and nawaz sharif's rule in early and mid nineties in Karachi, it was when hell broke loose here, but nobody even knew about it i am a common person and like it or not, all i have seen is that democracy always bring more downfall and more corruption to this country!
Altaf Jun 01, 2011 05:57pm
Once again a brave journailst has been silenced.God Bless him.With evry passing day,the situation is being very horrible & awful.
Somu Jun 01, 2011 05:58pm
My thoughts are with Syed Saleem's family. My heartfelt condolences. Can Dawn create a collection fund for Syed Saleem's family and publish the details. It is our responsibility to remind Saleem's family that we are with them, his kids will be educated. We cannot replace Syed Saleem, at least we can help his wife. Syed Saleem Shahzad, I salute you.
SK Jun 01, 2011 06:41pm
My heartfelt condolences for his family. What a tragedy! As an Indian I have been reading pakistani papers since OBL killing and found this article by Shahzad on the Mehran attack having some material which I had seen nowhere else. I forwarded the report to many of my friends thinking this is indeed a brave man while also thinking if what he writes is true then the whole region is in a more horrible situation than one has been made to believe. The next morning I find this journalist has gone missing and I thought the establishment is giving him a warning about revealing state secrets but alas I learn about his death. Somehow I was touched by the courage of this man and pray that his soul rests in peace.
mia Jun 01, 2011 07:29pm
"The fact that the killers of not even one Pakistani journalist killed has been found, prosecuted and punished has meant the media has been an easy target." It means much more than that, Sir. It means your whole country and everyone in it is targeted. The taliban are crowing that they control Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Pakistan has become not only the epicenter of Islamic terrorism but also the highest echelon of Pakistan security is embedded with the terrorists. The Islamic terrorist organizations have infiltrated every strata of Pakistan's governing bodies. I also believe that the average Pakistani feels overwhelmed and underpowered. Seventy murdered journalists and not one arrest? At best, tolerance; at worst, complicity for these murders is all too painfully evident in your country's military and investigative institutions. It is time for the rest of the free world to eradicate the terrorists that are so comfortably sheltered in your territories. It's all too painfully obvious that the powers that be in Pakistan either can't or won't or both.