Crack Down on Daily Asaap in Balochistan

A newspaper in Balochistan in late August 2009 has been forced to cease publication after the Frontier Constabulary cordoned off its office

Clip_4Journalists of the military-torn province of Balochistan are facing
direct threats from law enforcement agencies, particularly from the
Frontier Constabulary (FC), a paramilitary force operating against
nationalists demanding constitutional autonomy.

On August 18, 2009, the Daily Asaap, the most widely circulated
Urdu-language newspaper of Balochistan province, was forced to cease its publication after receiving threats from unknown persons. The newspaper’s office at Quetta was cordoned off by the FC and an
armored car was sighted outside the main gate. The chief editor of
the newspaper, Jan Mohammad Dashti, was attacked by unknown
persons and was seriously injured.

The newspaper, before closing its publication, made a public
announcement:

With absolute pain and sorrow, we wish to inform the respected readers of Asaap and the Baloch people that our office in Quetta has been under siege by the Frontier Corps and security forces for the past two weeks. These forces were busy humiliating every visitor and staff member who came to our office. Asaap is the only newspaper where security forces have been deployed. These forces are engaged in regular search and harassment of staff members and visitors. Since the government decided to move a tank outside the Asaap offices, the situation remarkably worsened. Due to this, all of our staff members have panicked and are unable to concentrate on their professional responsibilities. In such a situation, the Daily Asaap is left with two options: either to temporarily or permanently shut its publication, or to prepare for clashes between the security forces and the staff members of the newspaper. For Asaap, the personal safety of all its staff members, the majority of whom are young people, is extremely important. Therefore, the Asaap management has decided that the newspaper will not be published from Quetta and Turbat.

Earlier this year on February 23, the chief editor of the newspaper,
Jan Mohammad Dashti, along with his driver, narrowly escaped an
assassination attempt allegedly carried out by state intelligence
agencies. After the incident, the paper had reiterated its commitment
to uninterrupted publication.

Journalists of the newspaper have also been victims of numerous forms of harassment, including body search and threat calls. 

Malik Siraj Akber, a regular columnist for the Daily Asaap and Bureau Chief of the Daily Times, is under continuous threat by intelligence officials since publishing an article on the Times of India on August 11, 2009. The government accused him of being an agent for India.

The Daily Asaap had been targeted by the Pakistani government ever
since its publication of a list of 179 disappeared women missing
since 2002. The government had stopped its legal share of official
advertisements to penalize the newspaper for its advocacy for the
constitutional rights of the Baloch people.  

Two books published by Asaap, In a Baloch Perspective and To See the Voice of Reason authored by Dr. Naseer Dashti, were also banned by the provincial government in 2008.

Encroachment upon press freedom is only one reflection of the poor
human rights situation in Balochistan province. Since the beginning
of the War on Terror, the province had become the main target of
continuous military operations. The Pakistan Air Force had conducted numerous aerial bombings and deployed gunship helicopters on unarmed people. According to nationalist groups, more than 4000 persons are missing from the province alone.

After coming to power, the Asif Zardari government claimed in 2008
that it had stopped the military operations in the Balochistan
province. It also vowed that law and order in the province would be
restored by the FC. However, reports have since been received
regarding arbitrary arrests and detentions carried out by the FC.

According to AHRC, more than 300 persons have been arrested, among them students and journalists. Funding from international communities for combating terrorism has allegedly been used against nationalist forces.

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