Reporters Without Borders said today it was shocked by the closure of Pakistani Urdu-languge daily Asaap. after it came under “tremendous pressure” from the government and the security forces which were controlling its offices both inside and out.
Editor, Abid Mir, speaking on the telephone from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan told the worldwide press freedom organisation that he had “published the last edition on August 18” as a result of the intimidiation.
“We are shocked by the control and intrusions on the part of the security forces that obstruct the running of the newspaper and constitute a violation of press freedom. The government is adding to the gang-related and Taliban threats with an unacceptable crackdown on journalists. We urge the Pakistani authorities to get this harassment by the security forces stopped and to allow journalists to carry on their work normally”, Reporters Without Borders said.
The editor described the Quetta offices as being under the “control of paramilitary security forces and intelligence personnel” for the past two weeks. Around dozens of soldiers from the paramiltary Frontier Corps were deployed inside and outside the offices to check on visitors and staff.
“Our staff are being checked going in and out of the offices and the safety of our team of reporters is very important to us. The security forces are watching both what we publish and what we are talking about”, Mir said, adding, “We consider it as a complete intrusion into our professional duty.”
The newspaper, which is highly critical of the government, explained these reasons for the shutdown to its readers in a front-page article in the final edition on 18 August. The editor of Asaap told Reporters Without Borders that the provincial government had shown itself “helpless” and that any attempt to seek a legal remedy would be pointless in the face of the security forces.
Elswhere, several local organisations reported that the Frontier Corps forces on 21 August began a “siege” of the English-language daily the Baluchistan Express and the Urdu-language daily Azadi. The newspapers said that security agents were carrying out body searches and questioning staff going in and out of the premises.
Journalists in Baluchistan have faced constant danger since the start of the year. Jan Muhammad Dashti, owner and editor-in-chief of Asaap, was shot and seriously injured on 23 February. A reporter with Dunya TV was hurt in a roadside bomb blast on 10 April and on 11 April, a correspondent on the Baluchistan Express was killed. A journalist working in Quetta told Reporters Without Borders at the time that Baluchi journalists were being “targeted by the security forces”.
Asaap’s final front-page: