21st April 2021

By Ahmed Saeed


National and international rights organizations have condemned the attack on Absar Alam, a senior journalist and the former Chairperson of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) that happened on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, and urged the Government of Pakistan to investigate the case and nab those responsible.

“The shooting of journalist Absar Alam highlights the dangerous climate that all members of the press face in Pakistan if they dare to criticize the country’s powerful military,” said Steven Butler, the Asia Programme Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Butler himself, faced censorship when he had landed but was not allowed to step into the country when he was invited to the Asma Jahangir Conference in 2019.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also released a statement and declared this a cowardly act of violence against journalists and an assault on Pakistan’s already muzzled media.

Although Absar Alam has not been a practising journalist for some years, he is very active on Twitter where he shares his thoughts on various political matters and openly criticises the country’s powerful military establishment, including the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the DG ISI.

That is why it has been a nagging concern for many, that just days before the shooting, Alam had tweeted that he had been pressured in 2017, by the current DG ISI General Faiz Hameed, to restore Channel 92 when Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) was holding their Faizabad sit-in. As Chairperson PEMRA, Alam took Channel 92 off-air for inciting violence and hatred against the police force for conducting an operation against the TLP.

How the attack unfolded

On Tuesday, Alam was injured when he was shot while he was walking in a park near his house. He said later that the unknown assailant appeared to be in his late 20s (around 27 or 28 years of age), and that he had taken a couple of rounds of the park on his bike before he began firing upon Alam.

The journalist was shot in the abdomen – the bullet reportedly grazed his liver as it went completely through his body. He was rushed to a hospital where he is stated to be stable and under treatment in the ICU.

“I have not given up, nor will I,” he said. “This is my message to all of those who ordered this hit on me.” Alam was seen declaring in a video he had recorded on his way to the hospital.

‘Can recognize the attacker’

While the police have registered an FIR under Section 324 (attempt to murder) of the Pakistan Penal Code, however, no arrests have been made as of the filing of this report. Alam, in the FIR, said that he can recognise the attacker if he is produced before him.

The DIG Operations Islamabad announced the constitution of a special investigation team headed by SSP Investigation to probe the incident. He assured that the matter will be investigated using scientific and forensic technology.

“However, the police have not made any progress in the investigation. The DIG visited us last night but nothing substantial has happened after that. The police didn’t even send a team to sketch the face of the alleged assailant,” says Afia Alam, wife of Absar Alam.

She also said that the police have retrieved footage of the incident recorded by a nearby CCTV camera, however, they have not even shared it with the family yet.

This is not the first time Alam has been in danger it seems.

In January this year, he noticed suspicious activity outside his home where an unknown individual would spend hours outside his house pretending to repair his motorcycle. He tweeted the picture of that man and expressed his doubts that the person was an agency spy sent to monitor his activities.

According to Afia, the police have also asked her to share the picture of that man in order to widen their scope of the investigation.

Many high-level government officials including Federal Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid have also ordered the police to apprehend the attackers as soon as possible. However, in the past, law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have repeatedly failed to arrest perpetrators of the attacks on journalists in the country.

Impunity in attacks on journalists

According to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), over 130 journalists have been killed since 2002 but not a single person was punished, encouraging total impunity for such attacks.

In the case of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV reporter who was killed in 2011, an anti-terrorism court sentenced two people to death and four others to life after a trial in absentia. However, the Sindh High court later quashed these sentences.

In the past decade, many journalists were subjected to violence including gun attacks and abductions but not a single case has reached its logical conclusion.

Hamid Mir

Award-winning journalist and the host of Geo’s show Capital Talk, Hamid Mir, was ambushed by unknown assailants in broad daylight on April 19, 2014. He sustained six bullet injuries in different parts of his body. His attack was condemned widely by national and international organisations who demanded an impartial inquiry into the matter.

Nawaz Sharif, who was Prime Minister at the time, requested the Supreme Court to constitute a three-member judicial commission to probe the attack. The commission, after nine months of inquiry and interviewing various people, submitted its report to the government. However, the report has never seen the light of the day.

In 2016, a leaked report of the commission came to the surface which said that the LEAs failed to perform their duty properly.

“The leaked report is incomplete and concocted and was also dismissed by the Supreme Court itself,” Mir told Voicepk.net.  He added that he had asked the PML-N’s federal government to release the report but they failed to do so.

Ahmad Noorani

An investigative reporter for English daily The News, Ahmad Noorani was critical of the military’s involvement in politics. He was attacked in 2017 at Zero Point in Islamabad, a main junction of the federal capital, by unidentified assailants, wielding knives and rods.

Noorani sustained injuries to his head. The then federal government of the PML-N pledged to probe the matter and to arrest the attackers but no progress has been made in the case despite the passage of four years.

Irshad Mastoi

Mastoi was not so ‘lucky’ as some others. The Quetta Bureau Chief of the Online International News Network he along with an accountant Muhammad Younus, was killed in an attack at his office. The assailants managed to flee the crime scene.

Following the incident, the Balochistan High Court (BHC) formed a judicial commission that recorded the statements of witnesses to probe the killing, but the report was never made public.

Matiullah Jan

Matiullah Jan a senior journalist who has covered politics and the judiciary for over two decades has always been a very strong critic of the Pakistan Army’s high command for its meddling in politics.

In August 2020, he was abducted in broad daylight by men who rode in vehicles that reportedly belonged to LEAs. His abduction was widely condemned by the international community and local rights organisations, who urged the government for his safe return. As a result of mounting pressure, Jan was released mere ten hours after his abduction.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the police to probe the matter and submit the report to the court. The report submitted by the police was later rejected by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad and he observed that the IG Police did not know how to investigate the abduction.