Journalists in Pakistan under fire from many sides

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In this Tuesday, June 13, 2017 photo. a family member shows the photograph of assassinated Pakistani journalist Bakhsheesh Elahi in Haripur, Pakistan. Elahi was waiting for the morning bus when a lone gunman on a motorcycle pulled up beside him and shot him dead. Rights groups say journalists in Pakistan are under escalating attacks as from multiple directions. (AP)
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In this Wednesday, June 14, 2017 photo. Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir talks to the Associated Press in Lahore, Pakistan. Rights groups say journalists in Pakistan are under escalating attacks as from multiple directions. In addition to shootings and attacks from militants and criminals, Pakistani journalists face a government crackdown on any criticism of institutions such as the military. (AP)
Updated 19 June 2017

Journalists in Pakistan under fire from many sides

PAKISTAN: Bakhsheesh Elahi was waiting for the morning bus when a lone gunman on a motorcycle pulled up beside him and shot him dead. Rana Tanveer had just taken his family to safety after radical Islamists spray-painted death threats on his door, when a car smashed into his motorcycle and sped away.
Taha Siddiqui answered his phone to hear a menacing voice from a government agency telling him he needed to come in for questioning, without saying why.
The three men are journalists in Pakistan, considered one of the most dangerous places in the world for this profession. But even by Pakistan’s standards, things have gotten worse, according to journalists, Pakistani and international human rights activists, and advocacy groups.
In addition to attacks from militants or criminals, Pakistani journalists are also facing threats from government agencies or the military itself.
“Journalists are not threatened from one side alone, they are threatened by drug mafia, they are threatened by political gangs. They are also threatened by religious extremists,” said Asma Jehangir, a human rights lawyer and the director of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “They are threatened by the military. They are also threatened by people who are deeply (involved) in corruption, but when it comes to the extremist elements, governments are very reluctant to move because they themselves are afraid of them.”
Elahi, a determined investigative reporter in northwestern Pakistan’s Haripur, is just the latest example. The father of five, including a daughter born just 20 days earlier, was killed on June 11 while waiting for a bus a few hundred meters from his home.
Local journalists turned Elahi’s funeral into a protest, carrying his body through the streets and stopping traffic to demand that the killers be brought to justice, according to Zakir Hussain Tandi, president of the Haripur Press Club.
But impunity and a lack of prosecution has characterized many of the attacks on journalists in Pakistan. Elahi, who was bureau chief of an Urdu language newspaper and sister television station, was the fourth journalist killed in Haripur district in the last three years. All but one of the murders has gone unsolved.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 60 journalists and 10 media workers have been killed in Pakistan since 1992.
Elahi’s Facebook page featured his relentless reporting against political corruption. One of the country’s largest television news channels to feature one of his stories.
“We think his death is probably related to journalism,” said Tandi of the press club. “Lots of people didn’t like his investigations, the drug mafia, corrupt politicians, car thieves. He wrote about them all.”
Pakistani journalists and social media activists have been detained, often by intelligence agencies, tortured according to some who were released, and threatened with blasphemy charges, which carry the death penalty and routinely incite mobs of radical extremists to violence.
Last week, a social media activist was sentenced to death for allegedly posting an item deemed insulting to Islam.
That sentence “sends a threatening message to all ... causing fear and leading to self-censorship,” Steven Butler, Asia director of the CPJ, said in an e-mail. “It’s clear that authorities — including investigative authorities, prosecutors, and the military — are keeping a close eye on journalists and ready to act when red lines are crossed.”
Last month, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ordered a crackdown on “those ridiculing the Pakistan Army on social media (to protect) the prestige, reputation and goodwill” of the armed forces.
On May 18, Taha Siddiqui, Pakistan’s correspondent for France 24 TV, received a threatening call from someone claiming to represent the counter-terrorism wing of the Federal Investigation Agency , ordering him to come in for questioning. Siddiqui, who is also bureau chief of the World Is One News website, is an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies.
“My work is in the public domain,” Siddiqui asked. “What does counter-terrorism have to do with journalism, with free speech?“
Siddiqui phoned colleagues for advice and stopped answering his door. He eventually spoke to Jehangir, the human rights lawyer, who advised him to file a petition demanding to know why he was being investigated. Siddiqui, who didn’t go in for questioning, has already made at least one court appearance and was told by the FIA that he was being investigated because of his critical stories about the military.
On May 30, Rana Tanveer, a correspondent for the English-language daily newspaper, The Express Tribune, found death threats spray painted on his home in eastern Lahore saying he would die for writing stories about the plight of minorities in Pakistan — particularly Ahmedis, reviled by mainstream Muslims who label them as heretics because they believe in a messiah who arrived after the Prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan has officially declared them non-Muslims, making it a crime for Ahmedis to identify themselves as Muslims. Dozens are facing charges.
“That was shocking for me,” Tanveer said of the spray-painted threats. He went to the police, which didn’t register a case but instead advised him against filing a formal complaint, saying it would enrage the radicals who had threatened him.
Tanveer has received several such threats over the years; even his landlord had been warned against renting to him because of his coverage of religious minorities
On June 9, Tanveer was riding his motorcycle after meeting a colleague from the Pakistan Union of Journalists to decide how to deal with the threats when a speeding car slammed into him and sent him crashing to the pavement. He suffered a fractured leg and believes it was no accident.
Today, he is in hiding with his family, unprotected by police and unsure when he can return to his job.
Jehangir said she believes the government crackdown is being done at least partially at the behest of Pakistan’s military.
“They think that the image of Pakistan is being destroyed by the word getting out of here,” she said. “Now, if you stop picking up people, stop torturing people, the image will improve, but don’t shoot the messenger.”


Pakistan appoints fourth finance minister in two years in shake-up of economic team

Updated 29 min 4 sec ago

Pakistan appoints fourth finance minister in two years in shake-up of economic team

  • Shaukat Tarin, a former banker, was named as the new finance minister
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday appointed a new finance minister, its fourth in two years, in shake-up of the government’s economic team, the prime minister’s office said, as the government enters a key period of budget-making and implementation of IMF reforms.
Shaukat Tarin, a former banker, was named as the new finance minister. He had held the finance minister portfolio in a previous government. His predecessor, Hammad Azhar, held the portfolio for less than three weeks.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also shuffled other key economy-related ministries, including the economic affairs and power portfolios.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

Updated 16 April 2021

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai jailed for 12 months over huge democracy rally

  • Jimmy Lai currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law

HONG KONG: Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was jailed for 12 months on Friday over one of the city’s biggest ever protests in 2019.
It is the first time the 73-year-old – who is currently in custody after his arrest under Beijing’s sweeping national security law – has received a sentence for his activism.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Updated 16 April 2021

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 16 April 2021

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.


Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.