The Express Tribune Editorial 2 January 2021

Media under attack


Reggae singer Bob Marley once performed just two days after being shot. When asked why he persevered through the excruciating pain and risked his survival to perform, he said those who were trying to make the world a worse place were not taking a day off, so why should he. Over the past year, where humanity has faced an existential yet invisible foe, journalists have not been able to take a day off. Sadly, the pandemic-induced lockdowns have not kept those who want to make the world a worst place inside either. Over the past year, nearly 50 journalists were killed around the world, a vast majority of them, for their work. Countries with the highest number of journalists murdered were Mexico, India and Pakistan. One would imagine that during a pandemic, journalists would have been the most important cog in containing it. Hence, targeting journalists for their work — particularly those probing cases of corruption — would only mean that those trying to make the world a worst place did not let the pandemic constrain them.
And an annual report by the Reporters Sans Frontiers found that curbs for media also increased during the year. Multiple reports by international media and rights organisations have pointed towards the growing restrictions for media. Journalists who once ruled the airwaves have been forced to the digital realm. Then there is the harassment of journalists through state organs. Proclamations from the podiums of state, attacking the media for spreading fake news also greatly damaged the credibility of the media. This was on full view during the pandemic as people largely ignored what was being communicated via various outlets on the virus. Then there is the impunity for those who kill journalists, with the year ending with the murderer of American journalist Daniel Pearl being released from jail. Media is the fourth pillar of the state. No other time in modern history than the last year showed its importance once more. Attacking it could be catastrophic.



Extrajudicial killings in IIOJK


India’s reign of terror in Occupied Kashmir continues, with the latest incident being an attempt to frame a war crime as a policing incident. Indian security forces murdered three young men, reportedly just teenagers, and have since been trying to portray them as “terrorists”. Their families, however, say they are not linked to any freedom fighters or other militants. It is also interesting that Indian authorities — despite claiming that the victims were “hardcore” militants — produced no evidence suggesting that they had been on a watchlist.
Perhaps that is why the local police are now denying that they were part of the operation. The initial press releases attributed the encounter at a house to a joint operation by the Indian Army and the local and federal police forces, but within hours, the local police claimed it was an army operation, and the police forces had joined much later. The Indian military’s story also keeps changing, sometimes claiming that they were shot at, and sometimes that grenades were lobbed at them. Even their timelines don’t match up with statements from the victims’ families. In fact, one victim’s family says he was pulled out of a car and shot.
A recent report suggests that at least 65 Kashmiris have been extrajudicially killed in the occupied territory in 2020, aside from at least 232 freedom fighters killed in the year to date. Amazingly, it would seem that local police forces – which are drawn from Occupied Kashmir, unlike the federal police and army — are actually getting fed up with the behaviour of troops sent in by New Delhi. Keep in mind that earlier this week, the local police actually booked an army officer and two civilians for killing three labourers in an ‘encounter’ in Shopian in July. In that incident, an army captain kidnapped the three innocent men, murdered them, and then planted evidence on them. Unfortunately, the officer is shielded by India’s Army Act and has still not been arrested, nor has the military put him on trial.
It seems the Indian Army approves of outright war crimes against the people it claims to represent.



Attack on temple


A Hindu temple in Karak district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province was vandalised by a mob on Wednesday, though this is not the first time that a minority place of worship has been attacked in the country. However, those given to vandalising places of worship of other religions are on the lunatic fringe of society. The federal and provincial governments have taken serious notice of the act of vandalism. The government machinery swiftly moved into action and 24 people, including a local cleric, have so far been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack. The cleric is said to have instigated the mob to attack the temple.
The temple has existed for more than a century. However, when most Hindus of the area migrated to India after the partition, few visited it. In the 1990s, Hindus, who stayed back in their ancestral place, planned to renovate and expand the temple. Religious leaders of the community say the temple had been built at the Samadhi of a saint, Shri Paramhans Ji Maharaj, who has large numbers of followers in various parts of the world. Since there is a stream of pilgrims visiting the holy site, need was felt to build new accommodations on the temple premises. Some people took the matter to court. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the minority community. The misguided mob might have been led to violence by rabble-rousers who had their own axe to grind.
But in what must have had a soothing impact on the Hindu brethren, the Chief Justice of Pakistan has taken notice of the incident and fixed a court hearing for January 5. Let’s also hope that a timely action at the official level against the desecration of the temple would have conveyed a message of reassurance to our compatriots – who follow different religions and practise different faiths — and healed their ruptured sense of belonging. We need to understand that attacks on places of worship of minority religious groups are not allowed in Islam, and protecting their religious freedom is our religious, moral, national and constitutional responsibility, as citizens of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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