The Swat Odyssey

Meant to post this earlier, from the Washington Post:

New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented the extrajudicial execution of as many as 300 alleged Taliban supporters and sympathizers in the area around Mingora, the Swat capital, in interviews with more than 100 Swat families in February and March. A report on the alleged abuses, including torture, home demolitions, illegal detentions and disappearances, is scheduled for release this month.

What really made my blood boil though was Pakistan Army spokesperson Major Gen. Athar Abbas’s quote to Reuters:

“Swat is open to journalists and you can conduct investigative reporting there,” Pakistani Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told Reuters in Islamabad. “Have you seen any sort of report in Pakistani newspapers?”

Let’s be honest here, nothing contrary to the Pakistan Army gets printed or aired in the media in Pakistan, and is a fine example of censorship and self-censorship at its finest. One will rarely, if ever, see a report that is against the Pakistan Army being printed or aired on TV, with criticism mostly confined to the op-ed section in newspapers with regards to the Army’s involvement in political matters. Whether its the reporter/news editor not even filing the report, or the report being yanked off air, local media outlets will not air/print it. This seems to be an unspoken yet understood rule at most media outlets: “thou shalt not defame the Army”. Heck, we couldn’t even access the video of army jawans beating up a suspect in Swat on YouTube 30 minutes after it was uploaded. So Athar Abbas may reject the allegations (and for all one knows, they may be untrue, but that is something we can decide once the HRW report comes out), but his reference to Pakistani media’s reports being a testament that nothing went wrong in Swat at the hands of the Pakistan Army is utterly false. One would publish a report if one’s bosses allowed them to a – travel to Swat and b – publish or (in full) what the truth is. We may have a civilian government, but that doesn’t change the ground reality when it comes to the so-called freedom of the media.

3 comments
  1. Kalsoom said:

    Such an important HRW report, thanks for highlighting!

    Saad Ibrahim was quoted saying something very apt recently (though in the Egypt context), the problem in the Middle East is not freedom of expression but “freedom after expression.”

    Obviously in Pakistan we have a very vibrant and diversified media – but there are still restrictions that prevent it from truly qualifying as a “free” press.

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