Journalist groups are demanding answers from paramilitary security forces after two reporters say they were beaten after being summoned for questioning in Chaman, a city in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.
Abdul Mateen Achakzai, from AVT Khyber, and Saeed Ali Achakzai, from Samaa TV, say the Frontier Corp., known locally as the FC, called them in for questioning over their reporting on poor conditions at a coronavirus quarantine center.
“We were put in a vehicle at night and taken to jail. We were severely beaten up and humiliated. We were threatened and then locked in separate small cells,” Saeed Ali Achakzai told VOA Deewa.
The journalist said they were released after about 48 hours, but security forces kept their cell phones and car and listed them in the 4th Schedule — a list of individuals and organizations allegedly involved in terrorism. Under the schedule, the reporters have to inform authorities if they leave the area.
After their release, pictures of the journalists circulated on social media, showing bruising.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the beating was unacceptable and demanded an investigation. “The credibility of the rule of law in Pakistan is at stake,” RSF said in a statement.
One of the journalists told RSF that before they were detained, the reporters received WhatsApp messages threatening them with arrest and saying the deputy commissioner and security forces were unhappy with their reporting.
The Baluchistan Union of Journalists, a provincial branch of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, held a protest in front of the provincial assembly building in Quetta on June 24 to demand action against those responsible.
"We met provincial officials, demanding an end to violence against journalists, and they promised [to look] into the matter,” Ayub Tareen, president of Baluchistan Union of Journalists, told VOA Deewa. “Our protest will continue till the action is taken against the security forces involved in the matter and deputy commissioner Bashir Barich is transferred."
Deputy commissioner Barich told local journalists a committee has been formed to investigate the allegations.
Barich said earlier that the journalists were booked under 3-MPO because they had defamed him, the district administration, and the FC forces. The MPO, or maintenance of public order law, allows a district magistrate or government official to detain an individual for up to 90 days.
The Pakistani media watchdog Freedom Network called on authorities to stop using laws like the 3-MPO to arbitrarily harass and detain journalists.
“This is an extremely dangerous attitude on the part of the government authorities, and we demand journalists must be allowed to report COVID-19 fearlessly and independently,” Freedom Network said in a June 29 statement.
Local human rights groups and journalists have previously raised concerns over allegations of attacks and intimidation from FC and security forces.
After a fact-finding trip last year, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan described a “constant sense of intimidation” from security forces and agencies in the province.
Earlier this month, a local journalist interviewed child workers in Chaman who alleged they were detained and assaulted by members of the FC after holding a protest to call for the border with Afghanistan to reopen.
Chaman is one of the three main trade crossings on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Dozens of children work for local traders, transporting goods often illegally, on both sides of the border.
In the June 19 Facebook Live broadcast, several children told TV Dunya News journalist Aslam Achakzai they were beaten and sexually harassed by members of the FC. The children turned their backs to the camera to show bruising and injuries.
One of the children said, “They [FC men] tore my shirt and asked me to take off my shalwar, (lose traditional pants), but I didn’t.”
When contacted for comment, FC officials rejected the allegations and denied any involvement of forces in the harassment of children.
At a political gathering in Quetta on June 21, Pakistan’s Islamist leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman demanded the government curb the FC’s powers in Baluchistan province.
(This report originated in VOA’s Deewa Service.)