On 28 December, one of Pakistan’s most renowned journalists, Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the weekly The Friday Times and a television commentator, announced that in the past six months he had received “serious threats” from “state and non-state actors”, an expression used to mean intelligence agents and members of banned militant organizations. Four other journalists have recently indicated they have also been threatened.
“Independent journalists are increasingly in the firing line of the enemies of press freedom, as tension increases between the civilian government and the military,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The level of violence towards media workers has become intolerable. Public order must be restored and the authorities must find the means to protect journalists who are the target of threats as quickly as they can.”
Sethi made the threats against him known after he returned to Lahore following three months spent in exile abroad as a security measure.
He takes part as a political analyst in a popular programme broadcast three times a week on Geo News TV. He told Reporters Without Borders on 31 December that he would identify the organizations and individuals responsible for the threats if they continued. He also said he had been living under death threats for four years.
Sethi has won three international awards for his courage and his activities on behalf of press freedom and last year he received the Hilal e Pakistan prize, Pakistan’s highest civil award for distinguished merit.
“We did not speak about this earlier because we did not want to destabilize matters, but the threats are acquiring dangerous proportions and the time has come for all who are similarly threatened to come forward and speak about it publicly,” Sethi said during his late-night live political talk show “Aapas Ki Baat” on 28 December 2011.
He added: “It is unacceptable that in today’s democracy intelligence agents should be threatening their own civilians. A state within the state is not acceptable.”
His disclosure came a few days after another journalist, Hamid Mir, who hosts a popular talk show on Geo News TV, published a threatening message he believed had come from “the security establishment”, another indirect reference to intelligence agencies.
“One never knows whether the Taliban is gunning for you or whether the agencies are gunning for you. And sometimes you don’t know because one is operating at the behest of the other,” Sethi was quoted as saying after making the threats public.
No “state or non-state” group as described by the journalist has denied his accusations.
According to Sethi, the interior ministry sent an official notification last year to all police forces and the intelligence service about the threats made against him and his family.
Another television journalist, Salim Safi, has also disclosed that he received threats after he interviewed Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former cricket captain who entered politics in the mid-1990s, and wrote an article about him.
The journalist’s critical questioning attracted insults and threats by e-mail and on Facebook from Khan supporters and “well-wishers” in the security agencies.
The article written by Safi, a noted journalist, analyst and presenter of the programme "Jirga" on Geo TV, was published in the Urdu-language newspaper Jang on 28 December. In it, he wrote that workers and sympathizers of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, founded by Khan, used abusive language and a threatening tone.
Safi said: "I will criticize PTI and Imran in future as well if I deem their actions unfit.”
Two news producers with the station Samaa TV, Muhammad Atif Khan and Ghulamuddin, have been confined to their homes since the broadcast of exclusive images of children chained up at a religious school in Karachi on 14 December.
More than a dozen people were reported to be continually present outside the producers’ homes, threatening their families and neighbours to try to obtain information about them.
Police rescued about 50 children who were chained in the basement of Dau-ul-Uloom Zakriya madrasa, where police said they were being trained for a variety of extremist activities.
Pakistan is the deadliest country in the world for media workers. Last year 10 journalists were killed as a result of their work. The Khuzdar district in the south-west of the country is listed among the 10 most dangerous places for journalists identified by Reporters Without Borders.