Journalist Shahid Zehri, reporter for Metro One News television in the industrial city of Hub in Lasbela district of Baluchistan, was killed in a targeted bomb blast on 10 October 2021. Responsibility for this attack was accepted by the banned organisation Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a proscribed separatist group based in Balochistan. In its statement, BLA made several accusations against Zehri, while accepting responsibility for the incident and also accusing the reporter of spying for the state agencies.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Lasbela District Dostain Dashti, Shahid Zehri was traveling alone in a car on the RCD highway when it approached the city police station, there was a loud explosion in which he was seriously injured. After first aid, he was shifted to Karachi for treatment, where he succumbed to his injuries the same day. He said that the explosives were planted on the driving side of the vehicle, due to which this part of the vehicle was heavily affected.
Dashti said that the murder of Shahid Zehri has been registered by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).
According to the First-Information Report and investigative report of the case provided by the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of Police, samples of the material used in the blast were obtained while the available CCTV footage of the incident was also examined. However, according to Station Head Officer CTD Hub Zareef Ahmed, though the investigation of the case is underway, no progress made in the murder case of Shahid Zehri yet.
SSP Lasbela was approached with an application to provide case information on Shahid Zehri under the right to information (RTI) law that requires government departments to provide the requested information within ten days. However, no response has yet been received despite reminders.
An RTI application was also forwarded to Prosecution Department of Balochistan to provide information on cases pending in court related to killings of journalists in province, but no response received either despite reminders.
In a statement, Salman Ashraf, then Balochistan Union of Journalists (BUJ) president, demanded that the elements involved in the attack be arrested as soon as possible and justice be provided to the families.
“We travel in cars and motorcycles and park them in different areas. How will it be possible for us to stop everywhere and find that nothing has been installed with our vehicles or motorcycles?” said Shabir Ahmed, reporter of a local newspaper daily Khabardar in Hub. He said that freedom of press was almost nonexistent here but what little information that is being provided to the people would not be possible after such incidents. He said in Hub there is pressure on journalists from both the government agencies and the militants.
According to figures compiled by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), a total of 21 journalists have been killed or murdered in Balochistan since 2000 in reaction to their journalistic duties.
Irfan Saeed, president BUJ, said that in almost all cases of murders of journalists in Balochistan, the investigations are not pursued and no action is taken to hold the killers accountable.
After the killing of three media workers, including the bureau chief of an online news agency, in 2014, BUJ demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate the killing of journalists. But apart from announcements from the government, no positive response has come out.
Sadia Jahangir, assignment editor of Dunya News in Quetta said “The province of Balochistan has been suffering from militancy and instability for a long time. Journalists here face pressure not only from influential politicians but also from criminal gangs, security agencies and separatist militants.”
She further said that the formation of a judicial commission was announced to investigate the killing of journalists in various incidents to bring them justice, but no judge was nominated for investigation under the judicial commission of the provincial government, despite the passage of many years.
Former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Shahzada Zulfiqar said that due to fear, even in a city like Quetta, journalists cannot report on the activities of many organisations.
Shahzada stressed the need for enacting a journalists’ safety law in Balochistan as soon as possible. He added that even after getting approval from all stakeholders, the process of making the law is slow. He demanded that the killing of journalists should be investigated both at the provincial and federal levels.
The international press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders has added armed groups in Balochistan including the Balochistan Liberation Army, Baloch Liberation Front and Baloch Musallah Defa Army to its list of those active against press freedom. According to their report “Predators of Freedom of Information in 2013,” the list includes 39 such organisations and individuals that are active in the abductions, sanctions, kidnapping, torture and killing of journalists.
Sidra Arif, assignment editor in BOL TV, said that Balochistan is a conflict-prone region, where the government as well as the owners of media organisations should take precautionary measures for journalists and provide safety measures and equipment for their own protection. However, the situation here is that the owners are not giving salaries and their legitimate rights to the journalist workers.
Sidra Arif said that the biggest responsibility of the government and security agencies is to take timely action against the elements involved in violence, murder and attacks against journalists, so that journalists working across the province including Quetta and their families do not suffer from insecurity.