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Monday, 15 July, 2002, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
South Asian journalists under pressure
Journalists at offices
Journalists across the subcontinent feel the heat

The case of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl has attracted global attention to the increased risks facing journalists in South Asia since 11 September.

South Asia is one of the worst places for journalists to work in

But Mr Pearl's case is just the tip of the iceberg.

Media organisations in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh are passing through perhaps their most difficult phase in the past few decades.

Attacks on journalists in these countries are often driven by religious motivation, political witch-hunting or anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency warfare.


Journalists working under Pakistan's military regime in Pakistan have faced indirect pressure from the authorities.

Maoist guerrillas
Nepal's emergency rules have been tough

Reporters sans Frontiers (RSF), an international lobby-group for journalists, recently had to intervene to stop alleged harassment of Rauf Klasra of the Islamabad-based daily The News, but the paper's editor, Shahin Sehbai, was forced out.

Journalists have also been arrested "for writing articles against law-enforcing agencies", especially in Quetta, capital of Pakistan's south-western Baluchistan province.

Analysts say Pakistan has not allowed any journalist of Indian descent to report the war in Afghanistan after 11 September.

Britain's Amardeep Bassey, American journalist Aditya Sinha and the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran were "sent back" on one pretext or the other. Observers say they all had Indian origins.

Pakistani journalists also point out that the country's stringent blasphemy law has created a culture of political witch-hunting, preventing journalists and writers from articulating their views. Several have faced blasphemy charges.

Political pressure

Reporting on political issues has become risky for journalists even in countries like India where the press had been relatively free until recently.

Not long ago, the authorities in Delhi summoned Alex Perry of Time magazine after he wrote an article highlighting concerns on the health of Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.

A reporter working in Delhi for the al-Jazeera TV network was recently replaced. His reports on Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat and violence in Kashmir were said to have irked the nationalist government.

In Gujarat, a group of journalists was attacked by activists loyal to Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party when they went to report on the riots.

Delhi-based journalist Iftikhar Ali Geelani of the Kashmir Times is still behind the bars after Indian officials found some documents from a Pakistani think-tank on his laptop.

Observers say he was arrested because his father-in-law, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, is a leading separatist leader in Indian-administer Kashmir.

Indian intelligence officials recently raided the office of the online news portal on the day its editor was to depose before a commission probing its expose of a defence procurement scandal.

A reporter has been jailed over "poaching".

Journalists working in Indian-administered Kashmir face special problems, with threats from security forces as well as the militants.

Not only that. A Burmese journalist, Soe Myint, was arrested in India following the visit of then Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh to Myanmar. He was charged with involvement in a decade-old unarmed plane hijacking case.

Civil rights group say his arrest follows rapprochement between the Indian government and the Burmese junta.

'Largest prison for journalists'

In Bangladesh, journalists have faced threats from Islamists, political activists and the government.

The government recently "withdrew" the license of opposition daily Dainik Uttarabanga Barta which described the withdrawal as a "political decision."

General Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf has kept control of the press

Newsweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review too have had unpleasant experiences with the Dhaka authorities.

The editor of the Dainik Manabzamin daily was recently held on charges of contempt of court.

Nepal too has been in international limelight recently after journalists asked the government to prove that pro-Maoist editor Krishna Sen was alive.

The government denies that he died under torture by security forces.

Not long ago, prominent journalist Yuvraj Ghimre was held for treason but was then released under international pressure.

Nepal has been described by RSF as the world's "largest prison for journalists".

South Asia experts say these attacks are not isolated incidents but reflect a growing pattern of governments' intolerance of criticism.

It is not surprising then that analysts have recently described South Asia as the one of the worst places for journalists to work in.

See also:

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