ISLAMABAD: More than a fortnight after I was beaten by police officials in Islamabad while covering the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) sit-ins, the incident has gone unrecorded by any first information report.
And though both Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid took notice of the attacks on members of the media during the sit-in, no headway has been made in this case.
On the night of August 30, PTI and PAT leaders gave an unexpected announcement at 11:00pm to their supporters to advance from Constitution Avenue towards the PM Secretariat building. I positioned myself in front of Parliament House with my colleague Rizwan Shehzad.
Initially, we believed police officials would only keep protesters away from key government installations. But soon they began to flex their muscles and fired tear gas shells. For an hour and a half, I stayed at the venue, taking photographs and sending updates for this publication’s online readers.
Through a haze of teargas, with tears streaming down my cheeks and my eyes constantly itching, I negotiated with police officers deployed outside the MNA lodges as I tried to leave the area and head back to my office. When the tear gasing started, I had lost track of Rizwan. I finally reached him on the phone and he told me police officials were not letting him come pick me up on his motorcycle – he was stuck near the NAB office.
The officers had promised him that I would be given safe passage. I thought they would protect me against the enraged PTI and PAT workers. In the next few minutes, I found out how absolutely wrong I was.
A few people inside the MNAs residences were observing what was going on. When protestors took positions near the Parliament Lodges, some of the residents threw water bottles to them, they guided them on where to take cover.
As I started walking down the street behind the parliament lodges, a protester gestured towards the police and said to me, “Don’t trust these guys.” A policeman also came up to me and whispered in my ear, “They will not spare you. Run away.” It was too late.
I was holding my press card and shouting, “I am a journalist.” One of the police officials said, “Oh, he’s a media guy, catch him. The media is mainly responsible for this chaos.” Before I knew it, 20 or 30 members of the Punjab and Islamabad police had surrounded me and began clubbing me with wooden lathis.
When the night had started, I was wearing a white shirt. By the time the policemen were done with me, Rizwan found me in a red, blood-soaked shirt. When they saw how much I was bleeding and the head injuries I had sustained, some of them stopped beating me. Others still hit me. Rizwan was watching from the corner of the street, unable to help, his shouts going unheard.
When the policemen were done with me, Rizwan took me to the Polyclinic Hospital. When the news spread that policemen were arresting those receiving treatment at the hospitals, my colleagues shifted me to a private clinic.
More than 40 journalists, including women, were attacked that night by law enforcement agencies and protesters. Pakistan Press Foundation says it received reports that police attacked media vehicles when journalists tried to report on the teargasing. On August 15, at least four crew members of a media organisation were beaten by PTI members as they covered a speech by Imran Khan. Two days later, as many as eight reporters, cameramen and drivers were assaulted. One cameraman’s camera was broken, another was beaten.
As the attacks continued, the only way I could think to help was to create a forum where journalists who are attacked while they work can come together. Many registered themselves on a Facebook group created for this purpose and we are now looking at any legal recourse that we can take against these transgressions.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2014.
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