Baloch Journalists Face Media Restrictions At Hands Of Local Administration

Baloch Journalists Face Media Restrictions At Hands Of Local Administration
On July 7, 2022, a senior journalist Peer Muhammad Kakar was arrested following an application on behalf of Deputy Commissioner Loralai, Ateeq Ur Rehman over Facebook posts.

Peer Muhammad, who is from Loralai district of Baluchistan, remained associated with many media organisations, including daily Jang where he served as district correspondent for over 22 years.  At present he is reporting for daily Duniya newspaper as well as reporting through social media platforms.

"The purpose of journalism is to highlight the problems of the people and I have always tried to do that. I reported on fake domiciles, which is a huge issue in Balochistan, especially regarding the jobs at federal level.  Because of my reporting, the issue of fake domiciles is now in court," Peer Muhammad said.

Deputy Commissioner Offices in Balochistan are responsible for issuing local domicile certificates to residents on the basis of family background and residential status.

"Deputy Commissioner Ateeq Ur Rehman did not like my reporting on this issue.  I was called by him and told that I did a good job to expose the issue," says Peer Muhammad, adding he requested the Deputy Commissioner for further details regarding the fake domiciles, instead of replying he was evasive and did not cooperate with him.

"The Deputy Commissioner did not like it when I posted about the issue on social media, and I was served a notice," he said while recalling the whole episode of prosecution against him on behalf of the Deputy Commissioner.

In late June 2022, Peer Muhammad had published multiple Facebook posts alleging that Rehman had engaged in corruption by using public money for personal gain. In a defamation notice dated June 28, 2022 Rehman demanded that Peer Muhammad provide proof of his allegations within three days or face criminal action.

According to the application filed against Peer Muhammad by the driver of Deputy Commissioner Loralai, Durrani Khan, "Peer Muhammad posted allegations on Facebook against Deputy Commissioner based on lies. As I have been asked about these allegations continuously by the people around me, my self-esteem is hurt … Therefore, action may be taken against so called journalist Peer Muhammad under Section 500," which deals with defamation.

As per Section 500 of Pakistan Penal Code “Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both. [Provided that the originator of the defamatory imputation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, which shall not be less than one hundred thousand rupees, or with both.”

Peer Muhammad was advised by the lawyer not to respond as the notice has no legal status. An application was filed against him by the Deputy Commissioner and a non-bailable warrant was issued for his arrest on July 7, 2022, despite the court being closed two days before Eid.  "I was immediately arrested and sent on judicial for 7 days.   On July 14, journalist Peer Muhammad was released on bail on the condition that he appear before a local court if summoned in relation to the case.

Kareem Mandokhel, Station House Officer (SHO) of the Loralai Police Station, claimed that Peer Muhammad’s arrest was not an abuse of power, and said police had followed the appropriate procedures.  According to the SHO, Peer Muhammad posted many unsubstantiated allegations on social media regarding Rehman.

"Not all but a few local journalists and lawyers supported me," Peer Muhammad said.  He said that Balochistan Union of Journalists from Quetta provided support, but the journalists individually did not support him because another application in the court by him related to the government employees doing journalism. Irfan Saeed, President of Balochistan Union of Journalists said: "We demanded the immediate release of Peer Muhammad and asked the government to ensure protection of journalists in province. Many eminent journalists, including Hamid Mir, issued statements in my favour, which encouraged me."

In his Tweet, Hamid Mir had said "Pakistani Journalist Peer Muhammad Kakar was arrested on the orders of DC Loralai without any case."

Peer Muhammad said that journalists in small towns continue to face more difficulties and in Balochistan, where tribal traditions are more prevalent, it also creates difficulties because bureaucrats and district officers try to put pressure on journalists.

According to Peer Muhammad, this is not the first time that a case was registered against him for reporting.  "Even earlier, several such cases were lodged against him by the government department, which made headlines, but later dismissed or withdrawn," he said.

Following the case of government employed as journalists since March 8, 2016, he says that no journalist body or any press club has supported him in this cause, but hopefully there will be progress soon. Peer Muhammad has been following a case in the Balochistan High Court for 6 years against government employees doing journalism.

Syed Ali Shah, executive member of Balochistan Union of Journalists urged that provision of legal support to journalists is indispensable. Legislation related to the protection of journalists and its implementation should be ensured.

Ten journalists report for mainstream media organisations from Loralai but according to Press Club Loralai, there are also over 30 citizen journalists or people working on social media platforms.  Apart from threats or pressure, no journalist has ever been tried or jailed before in Loralai.