Geo TV's most prominent television anchor, and one of the most prominent journalists in Pakistan, has just circulated a detailed email message of threats he has been receiving. Hamid Mir's open, public response to the threats is a textbook case of how to handle the steady stream of intimidation that journalists face, not just in Pakistan but in other parts of the world as well. His entire message is reproduced at the end of this post.
There is an additional sense of urgency in this case: Umar Cheema, The News reporter who was abducted and beaten in 2010, and who is no stranger to threats himself, told me in an email: "The reason for taking the latest threat [to Mir] seriously is that I have faced the trouble in same manner, so we suspect the same mastermind."
CPJ has written a lot about threats in Pakistan, and their debilitating effect. At this moment CPJ's Journalists Assistance program is working with a few other Pakistani journalists who are under threat for specific reporting, but I do not have their permission to publicize the details of their cases.
While the threat to Mir appears to be from supporters of the military/security establishment, if not officials within the government itself, threats to journalists come from everywhere. Pakistani reporters are targeted by all sides to the country's conflicts --- religious militants, political factions fighting turf battles in violent cities like Karachi, competing secessionist groups in Baluchistan, and all the militarily active parties along the border with Afghanistan, as well as drug runners and gun dealers.
CPJ today released its list of journalists killed in 2011, and Pakistan tops the list with seven, five of whom died in targeted killings, killed specifically for their work as journalists. Last year, Pakistan shared the dubious distinction of being the world's worst with eight deaths, but only two of those were targeted deaths; the others came during dangerous assignments. Twenty-nine journalists have been killed in the country in the past five years. There has been near-perfect impunity in the deaths of journalists for almost a decade.
CPJ met with President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik in May, on World Press Freedom Day. We were promised an active response in dealing with such threats, but in the ensuing months none was forthcoming. It has become clear that Pakistan's journalists cannot rely on the government for their own protection, and the threats at times even seem to come from the government. While keeping pressure on the government, CPJ has shifted tactics to encouraging the country's press corps to act assertively in securing their own protection. One of the simplest methods is to do exactly as Hamid Mir has done in this case --- make the threat as widely known as possible.
Here is Mir's email message:
I would like to inform you that I received an SMS message at my blackberry today at 11:47 pm which said "i have not seen a real bastard than you. i wish somebody comes and strip you naked. i hope some Army man has not done real dirty with your dear ones." This SMS was reaction of my show Capital Talk which was going on at that time on Geo TV in a repeat telecast.
I responded to this SMS and I got another message from the same number again (03335245252). Within few seconds another SMS from 03318175319 declared me a CIA, RAW and MOSSAD agent. I have received these kinds of threatening messages usually from intelligence agencies in the past. When I responded these messages quickly and told them to go court against me they were silent.
These recent threats are related to two recent shows on Geo TV. I discussed a story in The Independent in the UK reported by Omar Warraich on December 14th and raised questions about the political role of DG ISI [Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate Ahmad Shuja Pasha]. A constitutional petition was filed by [Community Party Chairman] Engineer Jamil Malik on December 19th in the Supreme Court of Pakistan [asking the court to remove Gen. Pasha] and I was included in the petition as one of the respondents. I came to know about this petition in the evening of December 19th. The same evening I discussed the press conference of Baloch leader Attaullah Mengal on my TV show. Mengal criticized Pakistan Army atrocities against Balochis. This show was aired in the evening of December 19th and repeated in the morning of December 20th between 11 and 12.
I am sure that security establishment of Pakistan is once again angry with all those who will raise questions about the political role of Army. If anything bad happens with me or my "dear ones" the security establishment will be responsible.