Pakistani reporter killed in Punjab for covering drug trafficking

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) notes that the information provided to the police about last week’s murder of a young journalist in Vehari District, in eastern Pakistan’s Punjab province, clearly indicates that he was killed in connection with his reporting.

Abid Hussain, who was badly beaten on 22 August and died of his injuries the next day in a hospital in the neighbouring district of Multan, had written many articles about drug trafficking in Punjab.

“We will teach you a lesson today for filing reports against us,” one of Hussain’s assailants shouted before they began hitting him repeatedly with sticks, especially over the head. The attack has been described in detail by the victim’s father, Ghulam Farid, who witnessed it.

The statement – called a First Information Report (FIR) – that Farid made to the police, a copy of which has been obtained by RSF, says that, “the attackers warned onlookers that they would face the same fate if they tried to intervene.” Farid identified two of the assailants as Tahir Hussain and Muhammad Imran, describing them as “criminals” whose activities had been covered by his son.

“The reason for my son’s death is clearly stated in the FIR,” Farid told RSF. He filed the complaint together with local journalists, who described Hussain’s alleged killers as “influential people.”

“Hussain used to report on the drug business in the area and those named are notorious for involvement in the drug business,” RSF was told by Muhammad Ilyas, who heads the press club in the nearby town of Sahuka. An outspoken investigative reporter, Hussain worked for the Daily Sagemail.

Fight against impunity

“Pakistan’s journalistic community has been hit by yet another tragedy,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It is high time that the Pakistani authorities took concrete measures to guarantee the physical safety of the country’s reporters.

“We call on the Punjab provincial government to do everything necessary to ensure that Abid Hussain’s killers are brought to justice. At the national level, Prime Minister Imran Khan must get the parliament that was elected last month to pass firm and specific legislation protecting journalists and combatting impunity for those who attack them.”

Hussain is the third journalist to be murdered this year in Pakistan. Zeeshan Ashraf Butt, 29, was shot by a municipal council leader in the north of Punjab province when he tried to interview him on 27 March. Local newspaper subeditor Anjum Muneer Raja was shot six times by men on a motorcycle in a supposedly safe part of the Islamabad suburb of Rawalpindi on 1 March. His killers have yet to be identified.

Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.