• Monday 24th June 2019

Blacklisted In Baluchistan By Sumit Galhotra/Committee To Protect Journalists

Apparently, reporting on Baluchistan is a red line that foreign journalists must not cross. “I seem to be blacklisted for writing a book on Baluchistan,” he told me

Blacklisted in Baluchistan

By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Asia Program Research Associate

Willem Marx, right, launched his book ‘Balochistan at a Crossroads’ on March 13 in New York City. (CPJ/Sumit Galhotra)

Willem Marx, right, launched his book ‘Balochistan at a Crossroads’ on March 13 in New York City. (CPJ/Sumit Galhotra)

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a series of commitments to safeguard press freedom during a meeting with a CPJ delegation last week. Among them was a pledge to speak out in support of media freedom and against attacks on journalists, particularly in high-conflict areas like Baluchistan.

Baluchistan–Pakistan’s largest province by area–has been mired in a separatist conflict since the inception of Pakistan in 1947. Some journalists have termed Baluchistan Pakistan’s black hole. Local journalists work in a climate of intense intimidation and risk being killed by an array of actors, including Pakistani security forces and intelligence agencies, state-sponsored anti-separatist militant groups, pro-Taliban groups, and Baluch separatists. Foreign journalists seeking to cover the restive province face tight restrictions.

Last month, Pakistani authorities denied British journalist Willem Marx an entry visa to participate in a panel on reporting in Pakistan at the Lahore Literary Festival. The apparent reason: his newly released book, Balochistan at a Crossroads. Pakistani consular staff in New York informed Marx he was not welcome in the country. Marx told CPJ that after much probing, the consular official muttered to him, “It was the agencies”–a term used for Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus, which includes the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

This wasn’t the first time Marx had dismayed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. During his reporting in 2009–despite obtaining a No Objection Certificate (NOC), without which foreigners are generally not allowed into the province–it was clear Marx was not welcome there by the ISI. “It’s an incredibly intimidating place to work,” he said. ISI agents followed him throughout his time there, he told me. As a result, it was at times difficult for Marx to get people to meet with him, because to do so would invite trouble from the intelligence agencies. There are checkpoints everywhere in the province, he said.

On his departure from the country, authorities detained Marx for over an hour at the Karachi airport. The unidentified officials who held him said the intelligence agencies were not happy about his meeting with a Baluch separatist group during his reporting trip to the province. The officials confiscated one of Marx’s videotapes.

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