A Pakistan-based journalist targeted by bomb and grenade attacks over two consecutive months says his life has been “destroyed” by his unknown assailants, amid grave concerns over media freedom in the country.
Jamshed Bhagwan, the Peshawar bureau chief for Express News, says his children cannot sleep and have been kept away from school following the attacks on his home.
A hand grenade was thrown at Bhagwan’s house in Peshawar on Sunday, reportedly exploding with a cloud of smoke but no injury, while in March a bomb was placed outside his home, which was eventually defused by a disposal unit.
“My kids are scared – they can’t sleep well, they can’t go to school… Everything is destroyed; I have no idea how we can [go] back to our old life,” Bhagwan told Al Arabiya News.
“I have no idea why they are attacking not [just] me but all of my family,” he added. Bhagwan said he had not previously received any threats during his 15-year career as a journalist covering war-torn areas like Afghanistan, Waziristan and the Swat Valley.
There have been six attacks on Express Media staff in the last nine months, and four of the organization’s employees have been killed, according to Index on Censorship.
Raza Rumi, an Express News analyst said to be vocal in condemning the Taliban, was in March reportedly intercepted by gunmen on motorbikes in Lahore. While Rumi escaped injury, his driver died and his bodyguard was critically injured, Index on Censorship said.
Media-rights groups have not held back in their condemnation of the threats against journalists working in Pakistan.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, ranks the country a lowly 158th in its Press Freedom Index.
“Pakistan is the country with the greatest number of predators [against the media],” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at RSF.
“The most crucial issue in the country is insecurity and the impunity of crimes against the media.”
Potential predators include groups like the Taliban and the Baloch Liberation Army, Ismaïl said. But the government security forces can also pose a general threat to journalists, he added.
Ismaïl said the RSF was in contact with Express Media over several attacks against its employees.
“They have a critical tone that unfortunately makes them enemies from different parts… They can be targeted by militant groups, but not only that; some of the information they released really disturbed the security agencies,” he said. “What we want to happen is a strong reaction from the authorities.”
Sumit Galhotra, the Asia Program Research Associate at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the continued attacks against the Express group are “emblematic of the deep-rooted impunity when it comes to anti-press violence” in the country.
Since 1992, more than 50 journalists have been killed with a confirmed motive in Pakistan, according to the CPJ.
“Pakistan remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists... For years, scores of journalist murders have gone unpunished,” Galhotra said.
“Pakistani media face threats from many directions including militant groups, criminal elements, political parties, the military as well as the intelligence agencies.”
Journalists who do not provide coverage expected by militant groups like the Pakistani Taliban face “serious risks of attacks”, Galhotra said. Yet doing so could attract punishment from the government. “As one journalist told CPJ recently, ‘there are two choices – the graveyard or jail’,” Galhotra said.
Galhotra pointed to a “failure of authorities to hold perpetrators to account” as making the problem worse.
Yet hope on the horizon.
The CPJ met in March with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who reportedly gave his commitment to combat various threats to journalists working in the country.
“Pakistan’s leadership has a limited window of opportunity to take concrete, meaningful steps to ensure these commitments are met. We will be watching closely,” Galhotra said.
Yet that is likely to be of little immediate comfort to journalists like Bhagwan. Though the 2.5kg improvised explosive device (IED) left outside his house was diffused, he says there has been “no progress” in the official investigation into the incident.
And Bhagwan is demanding answers. “I have the right to [know] who attacked my family twice, and why,” he said.SHOW MORE