Sometime in the middle of December 2012 journalist Saifur Rehman informed me via Facebook about the escalating threats that journalists faced in Balochistan. “Buddy, now an extremist group has just repeated its threat to journalists in Quetta. It has threatened to target journalists if news about them is not given space.”
I did not know that this would be my last contact with the man. On January 10, 2013, the 33-year-old television reporter Saifur Rehman was killed along with his cameraman Imran Shaikh during one of the deadliest bombings in Quetta’s Alamdar Road neighbourhood. More than 100 were killed in the attack. A 20-year-old photographer, Mohammed Iqbal, was also among the dead.
Saif went to Alamdar Road, a restricted area where members of the Hazara community live. He was reporting on the bombing that occurred near Snooker Club. As he went closer the crime scene, a more deadly and devastating explosion occurred. Dozens of bodies were charred beyond recognition. Family members took hours to identify Saif and his cameraman Imran Shaikh.
Saif was known amongst his friends for calling the bluff of some journalists who often pretend that they are more powerful than a chief minister and more well-informed than others. He is still remembered for his friendly behaviour with everyone as BBC’s Balochistan correspondent. We remember him as one of the jolliest journalists in Quetta.
Besides the scourge of extremism and the failure of law enforcement agencies, I believe that the growing trend of breaking news has taken the life of dozens of journalists in the last decade. There are fewer opportunities for training but immense pressure from newsrooms on reporters in Quetta.
According to the Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ), journalists in Balochistan are targeted for their work and are killed when they are caught in explosions or shoot-outs. The last deadly incident served as a grim reminder to the owners and heads of media outlets as they started to make sure that the safety of journalists was not compromised.
The Press Club in Khuzdar has been closed for more than five months while journalists have migrated from sensitive areas like Dera Bugti, Kohlu and Awaran, leading to a near-blackout of news there. It is clear that no one is happy with the reporters or the conduct of the media in general, but people should also understand that a reporter is not powerful enough to fight or challenge any stakeholder. All he or she can do is to report the news.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2015.