Pakistan's journalists: in the line of fire
Security for reporters improved worldwide, but Pakistan remains one of the deadliest places for the profession in 2008.
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In his two decades as an investigative reporter, Mr. Abbasi has taken on the Pakistani bureaucracy, major political leaders, the military, and even the powerful intelligence services. But in recent weeks he's been told by some "well-wishers" to be more "unpredictable" in his movements – a string of recent scoops has put his life in danger, he says.
The death threats against Abbasi are making front-page news, but his is not the only story of a journalist at risk in Pakistan.
Journalists covering sensitive issues – politics, the fight against militants, or most recently the aftermath of the Mumbai (Bombay) attacks – are facing growing pressure from the government, Army, and intelligence agencies and from militants who would "like to control the media's message," says Adnan Rehmat, the director of Internews, a Washington-based media watchdog group.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based group that monitors press freedom around the world, reported in December that Pakistan has become one of the most dangerous places on earth for a journalist to report in 2008.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also released an annual report this week that found that Pakistan had the second-highest death toll for journalists after Iraq in 2008 – an "annus horribilis" for journalists in Pakistan, it stated. Last year, the group reported, seven reporters were killed, compared with 15 in Iraq.
"After what we'd been through with President [Pervez] Musharraf [in the past year], we hoped something positive would come out for us with a new democratic government," says Abbasi, sitting in his florescent-lit, bare-walled basement office.
Mr. Musharraf, in his final days as president in 2008, targeted the independent media in the country and forced all private TV news channels off the air for days. He also had journalists arrested en masse in November 2007, when he declared a state of emergency in the country.
"But things are still really bad," says Abbasi, and after a pause, "maybe even worse."
In the past few months, Abbasi has exposed financial dealings between the Army and religious parties in the current ruling coalition and broken news of corrupt practices by the chief justice – stories that did not win him any friends.
The government offered to provide him with an armed security detail, but Abbasi refused. "I'm not sure whether the people protecting me might just be the ones trailing me," he says.
In this country caught in several domestic battles and the global "war on terror," both state actors and militants pose a threat to journalists.
"We are in a fix," says Mazhar Abbas, a journalist who heads the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.