‘Powerful people in Pakistan don’t like me’

‘I criticise the interference of the army in politics.’
‘But the people know I am not anti-Pakistan.’
‘Public support is my biggest strength.’

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir‘s Twitter bio (external link) says it all: ‘Journalist banned in Pakistan carrying two bullets in my body’.

Known for his outspoken views, Mir has been banned by the Pakistan government from hosting his show on the Geo News television channel after he criticised ‘General Rani’ for the ongoing attacks on Pakistani journalists.

‘General Rani’ is Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

Mir did not name General Hameed, but by referring to ‘General Rani’, he made it clear to the Pakistani establishment whom he was taking about.

Mir reportedly said (external link), ‘Do not ever enter the homes of journalists again. We don’t have tanks or guns like you, but we can tell the people of Pakistan about the stories that emerge from inside your homes.’

‘We will tell them whose wife shot whom inside the confines of their home. And which ‘General Rani’ was behind this. I hope you all have understood what I am saying.’

Mir made the statement after three men entered journalist Asad Ali Toor’s home in Islamabad and thrashed Toor.

“We are losing our freedom very fast, but we will not allow anyone to turn Pakistan into another Myanmar,” Mir tells Rediff.com‘s Syed Firdaus Ashraf in an e-mail interview.

Is the foundation of Pakistan’s establishment so weak that it is threatened by one journalist speaking the truth or is it something directed personally at you?

This is not the first time I am banned in Pakistan.

I was first banned for over four months by General Pervez Musharraf in 2007. And again, for a few months in 2014, under pressure from the establishment after I survived an assassination attempt in Karachi.

When Imran Khan took over as prime minister in 2018, we (journalists) started facing more pressure.

In 2018, Pakistan was ranked at 139 on the World Press Freedom Index. Today, Pakistan is ranked at 145.

You must also look at the ranking of India. India is the world’s biggest democracy. It was ranked at 138 in 2018 and now it is ranked at 142.

Pakistan dropped by six places and India four.

Aatish Taseer, the British-American journalist of Indian origin, was stripped of his overseas citizenship status because he wrote an article criticising Narendra Modi in Time magazine in May 2019.

I remember our Prime Minister Imran Khan telling us in a meeting in 2019, ‘Look at the Indian media. They follow their government’s line on foreign policy issues and you people always criticise us’.

I gave him the example of Taseer who had lost his OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status.

If the Pakistani media is facing problems, so does the Indian media.

It’s not only the Pakistani media that is losing its freedom rapidly.

The Indian and Bangladeshi media are also facing a difficult situation.

Recently, the Asia Europe Peoples Forum released a report about the state of democracy, human rights and press freedom in 10 Asian countries.

This report said the democracy of Pakistan and Bangladesh is ‘hybrid’ and Indian democracy is flawed.

Please don’t see the problems of Pakistani democracy and media in isolation. The whole of South Asia is facing the same problems, from Pakistan to India to Afghanistan to Bangladesh.

We need a united front to protect our freedom.

The Supreme Court of India recently quashed sedition charges slapped against journalist Vinod Dua and said citizens have a right to criticise the government until and unless they do not incite violence.
Why don’t the Pakistani journalists go to courts for their protection?

My experience is different.

I faced many fake cases in the past. I faced false murder and kidnapping charges.

I even faced blasphemy charges and every time I got relief from Pakistani courts.

Veteran Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi once said about Pakistani courts that they are ‘militablishment’ (military establishment). Is that true? Do the courts fear the Pakistani military?

Pakistani courts have all kinds of judges, bad as well as good.

Recently, the supreme court dismissed a reference filed against Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

He became a target of the establishment because he criticised the ISI in one of his verdicts.

The whole government machinery wanted to get rid of him, but they failed.

I think some judges of our superior courts are very brave. Braver than Indian judges.

Any attack on journalists in Pakistan and you blame the Deep State for it. What do Pakistani journalists do that the Deep State is after them?

No. We don’t blame the Deep State in all cases of attacks against journalists.

Recently, journalist Ajay Lalwani was murdered in Sukkar (Sindh). We didn’t blame the ISI or the Deep State for it. We blamed the local police.

Another journalist, Aziz Memon, was killed in Mehrab Pur (also in Sindh). We didn’t blame the Deep State for it either.

We have no enmity with anyone in the ISI or army. We only want them to act according to the constitution.

In India we don’t see journalists attacking the army except in rare cases. Why do Pakistani journalists take on their army so often?

I don’t agree with you. I can give you examples from India, especially from Jammu and Kashmir.

I am a member of two international juries for World Press Freedom awards.

I am a member of the Reporters Without Borders jury, of which Indian journalist Rana Ayyub is also a member.

I am also a member of the UNESCO jury for the World Press Freedom Award.

Every year we receive nominations from different countries where journalists are facing problems.

We always receive cases from India every year.

This year we received the case of Aasif Sultan, a Kashmiri journalist who spent more than 1,000 days in jail. He was arrested by the security forces.

This is one example.

I can give you many other examples from India. But let’s not start a comparison; let’s not try to prove that India is very good for journalists and Pakistan is very bad.

We journalists are facing many common problems. I repeat, we must fight for our freedom together.

Three men attacked journalist Asad Ali Toor at his residence. Could the Pakistani establishment find these attackers? The incident was recorded on camera.

This is a big failure of all security agencies that the attackers of Asad Ali Toor were spotted in CCTV, but not arrested yet.

Same was the case with Absar Alam who was shot in Islamabad. The attacker was visible on CCTV camera, but has not been arrested yet.

The kidnappers of journalist Matiullah Jan were also visible on CCTV cameras.

All incidents took place in Islamabad. That’s why journalists pointed fingers towards the Deep State in these cases.

Many journalists left Pakistan fearing for their lives. What makes Hamid Mir going? Where do you get your courage from?

Yes, many journalists left Pakistan to save their lives and family.

I also got chances (to leave), but I decided to stay because whenever I faced problems, the people of Pakistan stood behind me.

I am not a politician. I am a journalist, but thanks to God common people in Pakistan trust me. They are very wise people.

They know why powerful people don’t like me because I speak against enforced disappearances, I speak for the rights of Baloch, Pashtun and Sindhi people, I criticise the interference of the army in politics.

They know I am not anti-Pakistan. I always support the constitution.

Public support is my biggest strength. My people love me. Why should I leave them?

Imran Khan said last year that the Pakistani media is more free than the British media. This statement came in the same year when 91 attacks took place on journalists.
Is Imran Khan lying about the state of media in Pakistan?

I don’t agree with him. I recently wrote an article in the British newspaper The Guardian and refuted the claim made by him.

Imran Khan is aware that Pakistani media is not free, but he cannot criticise those who snatched our freedom.

He himself is not free to publicly support us.

How is the state of media freedom under Imran Khan?

It is very bad. We are facing unannounced censorship.

We are losing our freedom very fast, but we will not allow anyone to turn Pakistan into another Myanmar.

What future do you see for the fourth pillar of democracy in Pakistan?

Freedom of media is linked with the freedom of the judiciary and parliament.

If the judiciary and parliament are independent, then there is some hope.

Recently, a journalist protection bill was tabled in parliament. We were struggling for this bill since 2011.

Finally a dream is coming true. We hope that this bill will be passed very soon and it will make those who attack us accountable.

This bill envisages a commission with judicial powers.

Working journalists will have a heavy representation in the commission.

This commission will follow the enemies of media freedom with legal authority. I am not disappointed.

That’s why I never left Pakistan. Its our country and we will fight for our rights with the help of common Pakistanis.

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