IFJ Calls for Top-Level Inquiry into Murder of Journalist in Pakistan

The International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ) joins the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in

calling on Pakistan’s

Government to set up a high-level judicial commission, headed by a superior

court judge, to investigate the murder of journalist Musa Khankhel and ensure

his killers are brought to justice.

 

The call by the PFUJ, an IFJ

affiliate, is made in the interim report of a PFUJ team which recently visited Pakistan’s

troubled Swat valley to investigate the murder of Khankhel, after local

authorities failed to initiate their own inquiry.

 

“The IFJ is deeply disturbed by the

PFUJ’s findings, and the alarming failure of police to investigate the brutal

murder of Musa Khankhel,” IFJ Asia-Pacific

Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

“Pakistan’s federal and provincial

governments must pay heed to the findings and recommendations of the PFUJ

inquiry and order an immediate investigation at the highest level to ensure

Khankhel’s killers are brought to account.”

 

The bullet-riddled body of Khankhel,

a reporter for The NewsInternational daily and GEO News

channel, was found in the Matta sub-division of Swat several hours after he was

reported missing on February 18. He was the fourth journalist to be killed in

Swat since 2007.

 

At the time, Swat was a strong focus

of attention due to a controversial ceasefire agreed between the federal and

provincial governments and local militant groups, and Khankhel had gone to

Matta to report on public events addressed by cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad.

 

The PFUJ reports that a five-member

police team headed by a high-ranking official did not begin its investigation into

the murder until February 27, the day the PFUJ team visited the valley in

North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). No official police investigation report

has been filed and police did not cooperate with the PFUJ inquiry.

 

The PFUJ found that Khankhel had

told several colleagues and friends of receiving threats in the weeks before

his murder. It is believed these threats may have come from both the local

Taliban and Pakistan’s

intelligence agencies.

 

Hamid Mir, a well-known GEO

anchorman who was in Swat on February 18, wrote in The News on February 21 that Khankhel was especially worried about

security agencies.

 

The PFUJ found that Khankhel’s

reporting had equally enraged both warring sides in Swat. He had a “rough

temperament” and took uncompromising positions, earning the enmity of many, but

he was considered a brave reporter.

 

On the day he was murdered, the

Government’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Media Centre prevented

Khankhel and his brother Essa Khan, a journalist with The Nation, from attending a NWFP provincial minister’s press

conference dealing with the ceasefire. Both journalists were accused of being

“pro-Taliban”.

 

Khankhel’s family and friends

confirmed that Khankhel had a “good relationship” with the local Taliban. He

had traveled to Matta with members of the outlawed militant group

Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, or the Movement for the Enforcement of

Islamic Law.

 

“He drove in the car of Sufi

Mohammad to Matta, where he attended their public meeting . . . he was present

on their stage,” ARY One reporter Shahzad Alam told the PFUJ.

 

Both the security agencies and the local

Taliban deny involvement in the murder.

 

The chief of Aaj TV’s bureau in

Swat, Fiyyaz Zafar, who also was a member of the PFUJ team, said, “One cannot

directly point finger at a person, intelligence operators or a political gang,

because Mr Khankhel has never accused anybody for his perceived murder. He was

brave and blunt. During his short stint as a TV reporter, he had made many

opponents owing to his uncompromising attitude. He would often talk about his

exploitation as a hard worker.”

 

The PFUJ concluded that Khankhel’s

killers could have been caught had the security forces acted quickly after the

journalist was first reported missing. However, the area in which Khankhel’s body

was recovered was not cordoned off at the time and no search operation was

conducted.

 

The PFUJ added that some electronic

media personnel probably made a tactical error to protest the murder by leaving

the area for three days soon after Khankhel’s burial. The PFUJ said the

presence of journalists was necessary to ensure law enforcement agencies acted.

 

Working

conditions

 

Like most other media personnel

working in Swat and other dangerous regions of Pakistan, Khankhel’s employers had

not provided him with specialist training for working in a hostile environment

such as Swat, the PFUJ said.

 

Only Aaj TV regularly pays its

Swat-based staffers, the PFUJ reported. Aaj TV’s Zafar said the bureau paid its

personnel well, and provided insurance and safety jackets. However, he said staff

at other channels were under-paid and on contracts, while stringers did not

receive regular salaries.

 

While GEO management told the PFUJ

that Khankhel was a regular employee, his colleagues said that Khankhel was not

a regular employee, and was paid little for his work. However, following the

murder, GEO said it had paid Khankhel’s family one million rupees (about USD

12,500), plus insurance of about half a million rupees. Khankhel’s brother Essa

has since taken a position as a GEO correspondent.

 

The PFUJ concluded that GEO

management, on learning of the threats against Khankhel, should have

transferred him from Swat.

 

Recommendations

 

The PFUJ’s initial recommendations

are as follows:

 

Owing to the special conditions in NWFP, a special fund

should be created for bereaved families of killed journalists.
 
Protection must be provided immediately to Khankhel’s

family, in view of prior cases where families of killed journalists have

been attacked or threatened. If it is not possible to move the family from

Swat, they should be provided with insurance cover.
 
Swat journalists urgently need safety training and

protection. The PFUJ should grant affiliation status to the Swat Union of

Journalists, in order to provide local media personnel with greater support

from their colleagues elsewhere.
 
Journalists working in Swat, the Federally Administered

Tribal Areas, Peshawar and Baluchistan need to be provided with safety training

as a priority. Journalists in urban centres also need such training in

view of increasing violent attacks in Lahore,

Islamabad and Karachi in recent years. Training to

improve their professional skill is also needed.
 
All media houses must provide stringers in conflict

zones with formalized regular employment and complete safety cover.

Quarterly training courses for safety and capacity building should be

considered.

     

    The PFUJ team comprised Khyber Union

    of Journalists president Mohammad Riaz, as well as Shamim Shahid, Fayyaz Zaffar

    and Ziaul Haq. In view of the tensions in the area, and the subsequent

    difficulties in information-gathering, the team said some of its information

    required further verification and therefore was not included in its interim

    report.

     

    For

    further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

    on +612 9333 0919

    The IFJ

    represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries