A famous Pakistani journalist who survived an assassination attempt despite taking six bullets has received new threats based on his views on the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Bob Dietz, the New York-based group's Asia coordinator, says an “intense campaign” to denounce Hamid Mir started last week after he wrote in his weekly column that Pakistan should officially apologize to Bangladesh for atrocities committed in 1971, when Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan.
Mir's column appears in the Urdu-language Daily Jang.
Mir planned to attend an upcoming journalists’ conference in Bangladesh, hosted by Prothom Alo, which includes discussions on the issues of 1971. Last year in Bangladesh, Mir had referred to books written by Pakistan army officers that admitted to atrocities against Bengalis.
In his email to CPJ, Mir says that soon after his visit to the Bangladesh High Commission, “mysterious people” began dropping CDs and DVDs of hate material to newspaper offices, and started tweeting against him, calling him an “enemy of Pakistan” and “agent of Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh has repeatedly demanded an official apology from Islamabad, and claims elements of Pakistan’s military committed war crimes against the Bengali population of what was then East Pakistan. Historians note that serious human rights violations were carried out both by Pakistan’s military and Bangladesh’s Mukti Bahini separatists.
"I wish to express to the Bangladeshi people sincere regrets for the tragic events, which have left deep wounds on both our nations," Pakistan's then-President, General Pervez Musharraf, announced to a state banquet during his 2002 visit to Dhaka.
Hamid Mir’s concerns for his safety are not unfounded. In April of this year, he was visiting Pakistan’s commercial, Karachi, when gunmen on motorbikes opened fire on his car, hitting him six times. He is still recovering from those injuries.
While he was unconscious in the hospital, his brother accused Pakistan’s powerful ISI spy agency for the attack, even accusing the agency's head at the time, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, of personally ordering the attack because of Mir's criticism over the disappearances of political activists in Balochistan province.
Mir’s employer, Geo, Pakistan’s biggest television news channel at the time, aired the accusation for hours along with a picture of Islam.
Pakistan’s military, which controls the ISI, said that this amounted to defamation and demanded action. Public opinion was deeply divided. Many in the journalist community also criticized Geo for going overboard with its coverage. The channel was ordered off air for 15 days by Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.
No direct link between ISI and the attack was found. A three member commission was set up by the prime minister to investigate the incident and release a report within three weeks. No report was issued.
Although Geo has been back on the air for several months, many believe the dispute between the powerful media house and the country’s military is still unfolding. CPJ's Dietz thinks the campaign against Mir may be another way of “continuing pressure” on Geo.
The atmosphere for working journalists in Pakistan has steadily deteriorated, according to both journalists and rights organizations like CPJ. Threats to journalists and their families come from multiple groups, including the ISI, some political parties, and extremist groups.
Asked if the latest threat against a famous journalist will add a chill to freedom of expression in Pakistan, Dietz replied: “No, the atmosphere is already chilled. It’s freezing cold, frankly. People are afraid all the time.”