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Reporter murdered, press club destroyed, journalist abducted in Pakistan's Swat Valley

Reporter murdered, press club destroyed, journalist abducted in Pakistan's Swat Valley
Image grab from Geo News television shows Pakistani reporter Musa Khan Khel in Swat. Musa, a Pakistani television journalist covering a peace mission by a pro-Taliban cleric, was killed in the restive Swat valley, the channels' management said.Photo: Geo News

Geo TV and the News daily correspondent Musa Khankhel was shot dead Wednesday in Pakistan's northwest Swat Valley.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, the first violation of a truce called Monday between the government and local militant groups. Khankhel had been covering a peace march led by Muslim cleric Sufi Muhammad, the father-in-law of local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah, reports said. Muhammad sought to recruit his son-in-law to join a ceasefire agreement he had negotiated with local government officials.

On the same day a score of armed and masked men blew up the press club in Wana, capital of the South Waziristan tribal area, completely destroying the building. In two other recent incidents, a journalist received death threats and a television reporter was briefly abducted after interviewing a Taliban spokesman.

Geo TV Managing Director Azhar Abbas told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) by phone from Karachi that the journalist was found dead with gunshot wounds to the body and back of the head in a militant-controlled area near the town of Matta after he separated from the rest of his four-person reporting team. The motive for the killing is not clear, Abbas said.

"We mourn the tragic death of Musa Khankhel and send our condolences to his family and colleagues," said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia programme coordinator. "But grief and condolences are not enough--the government must act swiftly to bring his killers to justice and protect journalists working in this volatile region."

“We want to express our full solidarity with journalists in the tribal areas, who are once again the target of attacks and threats from extremely violent and determined groups," Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “Journalists in these regions who are victims of this war should also get the support of the authorities and the international community. Without that, these regions bordering Afghanistan are at risk of becoming news ‘black holes’," it added.

Khankhel was native to the region and had worked for Geo for five years, Abbas said, so his colleagues were not worried when he took his own camera to carry out some independent reporting. He also filed for Geo-affiliated newspaper, the News. Abbas said Geo was concerned for the safety of the rest of its staff and was pulling all but a few employees from the region while the death was investigated.

Former Washington Post correspondent Imtiaz Ali, now studying at Yale University, told CPJ he had worked with Khankhel in Swat. "He was brave and courageous and always wanted to break the news," he said. Journalists he knew were shaken by the slaying, Ali said. "If someone takes responsibility for the murder you can be careful next time. If you don't know who killed them, then you are scared just because of your profession," Ali told CPJ by telephone this morning.

Ali, who had spoken with Khankhel's colleagues as they kept vigil over his body, described the mood among local journalists. "They are waiting to see whose turn is next," he said.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) called a day of protest Thursday while its secretary general said it was “appalling that a journalist should be the first casualty” when a peace agreement had just been signed between Sufi Muhammad and the local government.

President of the destroyed press club, Hafiz Wazir, told RSF, “It was an attack against press freedom, but that will not prevent journalists in the tribal areas from continuing to inform people (...) the explosion was so strong that the town’s entire population was woken up”.

Swat Valley is located in Pakistan's tumultuous North-West Frontier Province, where militant groups are fighting government forces for control. Journalists frequently face violence in the area. Armed men abducted Royal TV Peshawar bureau chief Noorul Hasan on February 8 when he was returning from Swat. After his release three days later, he said he had been questioned about a recent interview with a Taliban chief.

Azadi daily reporter Abdul Aziz Shaheen died when an army strike targetted the Taliban jail where he was being held in September last year. The daily Nation correspondent Siraj Uddin was killed in a suicide bombing in Swat in March 2008.

Date posted: February 19, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 755