Pakistani journalists protest colleague’s killing

February 19th, 2009 - 7:44 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Feb 19 (DPA) Pakistani journalists Thursday held rallies across the country to protest the overnight killing of a local reporter in the troubled Swat district of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Musa Khankhel, a correspondent for the Geo TV and English-language daily The News, was seized by gunmen in the Matta area Wednesday when he was covering a peace rally by Islamic cleric Sufi Muhammad, the father-in-law of Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah.

Khankhel’s bullet-riddled body was found few hours later in Detpani village, some four kilometers from Matta. “He received 30 bullets,” said Fayyaz Zafar, a local journalist.

Around 200 journalists held a protest rally in Islamabad, chanting slogans in support of press freedom and demanding protection for media persons working in conflict areas like Swat and the tribal region, where the government forces are fighting Islamist insurgents.

“The situation in Swat is very dangerous, but we will continue to report from there. We will not bow to the extremists and the armed militias,” said Ihsan Haqqani, a journalist from Swat.

Tariq Chaudhry, president of the National Press Club, told the rally that 24 journalists had lost their lives in the line of duty during the last two years in Pakistan, while dozens more were injured or harassed.

“The killers of none of these 24 were ever arrested and brought to justice,” he told the rally.

Similar protest demonstrations were also held in several other cities, media reports said.

Scores of journalists gathered outside the press club in Mingora, the main town of Swat, and demanded the arrest of the murderers and an enquiry into the incident, which was the first violation of the 10-day ceasefire announced by the militants.

Hundreds of people attended Khankhel’s funeral Thursday.

The slain journalist was trying to get the details of the ongoing negotiations in Matta where the cleric Muhammad is trying to convince his son-in-law to join the peace deal he has signed with the regional government in NWFP to end the conflict in Swat.

Fazlullah has been fighting the security forces since late 2007 in a campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region. The rebellion has left hundreds of militants, security personnel and civilians dead, and caused a mass exodus from the war-torn district.

Under the peace accord signed with Muhammad, the NWFP government agreed to establish Islamic courts in Swat and six other districts in the Malakand region.

No group has claimed responsibility for Khankhel’s murder, but his media organization reported that he was also receiving threats from the authorities.

“I have been receiving death threats from a powerful force. They are after me. They want to kill me,” Khankhel was cited as saying by The News. The daily said his organization took up the issue with the authorities.

A journalist in Swat who spoke on condition of anonymity said that Khankhel had repeatedly refused to “report what the army wanted him to report.”

An international organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), condemned the murder of the journalist.

“We mourn the tragic death of Musa Khankhel and send our condolences to his family and colleagues,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia programme coordinator.

“But grief and condolences are not enough - the government must act swiftly to bring his killers to justice and protect journalists working in this volatile region.”

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, NWFP’s information minister, condemned the killing and termed it “an attack on the (provincial) government.”

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