Pakistani Journalists Under Fire

Let’s hope America doesn’t come to this.
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Lahore, Pakistan

On Friday, Raza Rumi, a well-known TV anchor on Pakistan’s Express News, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in the center of Lahore. His driver, shot 11 times by two gunmen, died at the hospital.

Raza, a friend, had just left the television studio when two men on a motorcycle rode up next to his car, unleashing a volley of bullets. Raza was sitting in the back seat, and he plunged his body onto the floor.

“I jerked my head under the seat which was quickly filling with shattered glass,” he told me when I visited his house shortly after the incident. “I suffocated myself in order to survive.”

Raza’s 25-year-old-driver, Muhammad Mustafa, was completely exposed in the front. “He used to play football with my kids,” Raza told me. “He was married just a year ago.”

We have been here before. When Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first female prime minister, was assassinated in 2007, I was getting ready to go to a wedding, as I was on March 28 when Raza was shot at. I remember the evening clearly: “She’s dead, she’s dead,” cried my mother, her earrings jangling against her cheek. When Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s largest province and a family friend, was assassinated three years later, I was home reading the newspaper he published.

Journalists declared Saturday a day of protest in response to Friday’s attack, but one wonders what difference it will make. A February 2014 report by the South Asia Free Media Association listed Pakistan as one of the five most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The attack on Raza was the fourth attack on journalists from the Express Media Group. At his house, Raza told me the attack was likely linked to a recent hit list circulated by the Taliban. There are 15 names on the list, including Raza’s, and my father’s, the journalist Najam Sethi.

“The tragedy is that the state cannot protect us,” Raza told me. “I should say, if the state doesn’t kill you, nonstate actors will.” It made me think: In the good old days, repressive governments bullied, blackmailed and imprisoned journalists. But at least you got out alive.

In modern Pakistan, the government is immobilized by a clutch of sectarian organizations and terrorist groups. This is a Pakistan in which one of the most popular politicians, Imran Khan, labels those who want the government and army to fight the Taliban, like those on the hit list, as “American agents” who are “dollar-fed.”

In recent months, as the liberal (as in nonsectarian) Pakistani media have closed ranks against the Taliban, the media have been threatened and attacked. The Taliban, who obsessively monitor opinion and news content, know exactly who speaks out loudest against them. Raza is one of these people. He is a “liberal”—a term almost uniformly used as a pejorative in modern-day Pakistan.

Ms. Sethi, a former assistant books editor at the Journal, is a writer living in Lahore.

via Mira Sethi: Pakistani Journalists Under Fire – WSJ.com.

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