The Express Tribune newspaper was supposed to be a voice for liberal Pakistanis who’d had it with their country’s Islamist thugs. A partner of the New York Times, the Tribune launched four years ago, covering topics that most of the country’s conservative-leaning press wouldn’t touch.
It was a brave initiative, and eventually, the Pakistani Taliban responded the only way it knows how. With bullets.
Six weeks ago, three employees of the media group that owns the Express Tribune were shot to death. Not surprisingly,
The attack was later claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a large coalition of militant groups, which accused the media group of disseminating anti-Taliban propaganda.
No arrests were made, which was par for the course. The police hadn’t nabbed any perpetrators in earlier attacks against the newspaper either:
In the first attack on August 16, 2013, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the group’s office in Karachi, injuring one female staffer and a security guard. In the second attack, on December 2, 2013, at least four armed assailants opened fire and tossed homemade bombs at the same office, injuring a guard in the process.
Despite visiting the Express Media office in Karachi twice and constituting investigation teams to probe the two incidents, law enforcement agencies have been unable to arrest even a single perpetrator.
What should you do if you want to prevent more employees from getting maimed or murdered? There are three options that I can see, all unsatisfactory: continue as before and hope for the best, shutter the paper, or stop writing honestly about the religious murderers.
The paper’s editor, Kamal Siddiqi, chose number three.
He explained the newspaper’s new policy in a staff-wide e-mail:
Henceforth there would be “nothing against any militant organization and its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf“, the rightwing party led by Imran Khan, that strongly opposes military operations against the TTP.
There would also be “nothing on condemning any terrorist attack”, “nothing against TTP or its statements” and “no opinion piece/cartoon on terrorism, militancy, the military, military operations, terror attacks”.
Reporters have been banned from describing a movement responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, soldiers and police as “outlawed” or “militant”.
After the killings, the atmosphere at the Express Tribune was understandably grim.
“The paper has an unusually young staff and a lot of the kids were pretty scared, with parents telling them they should quit,” [one] staff writer said. “There were some people who said we should fight back, but they were a minority.”
The Pakistani Taliban was also behind multiple threats to kill domestic and foreign journalists after news reports about the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai dared paint an unfavorable picture of her assailants.
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