South Asia dangerous to independent journalists

Journalists in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have freedoms few in the region can enjoy. And at the same time, the threats to their lives is ever-present.

Mustafa Qadri reports in the Sunday Guardian (In south Asia, independent journalism is a real risk) that journalists are heavily restricted from independently reporting India’s continued crackdown on Kashmiri independence protests. And that journalists in Pakistan face greater threats. Earlier this month journalist and activist Abdul Hameed Hayatan was found dead in Balochistan after being kidnapped in October.

In September Umar Cheema was kidnapped by what appeared to be a police patrol while driving home in Islamabad.

“They stripped me naked and tortured me,” he recalled. Tied upside down, Cheema was badly beaten and had his eyebrows, moustache and hair shaved in a six-hour ordeal after which he was thrown on to a highway some 125 kilometres from his home in Islamabad.

Cheema realised his captors were in part of Pakistan’s secretive intelligence agencies. His transgression — in their eyes — was not the usual issue of military atrocities but rather its incompetence in prosecuting persons accused of killing army personnel.

Cheema had earlier faced the wrath of the army when he wrote about two commandos who were court-martialed because they suggested negotiating during a hostage situation in 2007.

Few think anything will get done even as the situation for journalists’ safety worsens.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists no one has been prosecuted for murdering a journalist in Pakistan except in the Daniel Pearl case. Civilian authorities set up a judicial commission to investigate Cheema’s abduction, but it appears to be languishing and there have been no significant investigations of army authorities.

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