'Daily Qudrat' Journalist Zafar Achakzai Released on Bail
Update: August 17, 2017
Where is Pakistani journalist Zafar Achakzai?
Daily Qudrat senior reporter Zafar Achakzai was arrested at his home in Quetta, Balochistan, in Pakistan's west, on June 25. A group of men, thought to be with paramilitary group the Frontier Corps, who are backed by the Pakistani government, told Naimat Achakzai, Zafar's father, that his son was being held, but refused to provide any further information, according to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Al Jazeera reports that the group who arrested Zafar consisted of men wearing both civilian clothes and Frontier Corps uniforms. Family members were said to be unable to visit or speak with Zafar, but had received a promise that he would be released "soon."
"It has been nearly four days since Pakistani journalist Zafar Achakzai was taken from his home in Balochistan," Steven Butler, with CPJ in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "Particularly given how dangerous the area is for journalists, we call on Pakistani authorities to do everything in their power to ensure he is released without delay or harm."
CPJ reported that Achakzai was arrested for his "activities on social media." AP described the incident as one where Achakzai was criticizing the government for failing to take action when a legislator killed a police officer in a motor vehicle accident, and a climate in Pakistan where authorities have been "cracking down" on journalists, reportedly creating legislation making criticism of "the government, the military or the police" an offense.
Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan
Home of arrested 'Daily Qudrat' reporter Zafar Achakzai.
Ethnic minority faces 'systematic repression'
In January, another reporter with the the Daily Qudrat, Muhammad Jan, was shot and killed in Qalat, Balochistan. CPJ stated that "Balochistan has long been the site of high political and ethnic tension."
In a piece entitled, "Marching with the Mahatma Gandhi of Balochistan, Pakistan’s killing field," Quartz described the situation in Balochistan as one where the will of the majority of the people is "freedom from Pakistan," and that rebels or insurgents, "depending on which side you are on," are viewed by the Government of Pakistan as being backed by India. While encompassing a portion of Pakistan, Balochistan also includes sections of Iran and Afghanistan.
The Huffington Post described an incident involving Baloch, the people of Balochistan, in Iran, were every male who lived in a village was systematically executed. The Post stated that the Baloch face "systematic repression" in both Pakistan and Iran, but that the situation is "largely ignored." Baloch are ethnic minorities in both nations.
"Their struggle is reduced to a footnote in a region locked in turmoil. Their stories are overshadowed by the refugee crisis, bloody civil wars, and an attempt to silence them in the countries they now reside," Hamid Yazdan Panah with the Post wrote.
In 2012, The Toronto Star asked, "Why have 14,000 people from Pakistan's largest province gone missing?" The piece told the story of Zakir Majeed Baloch, who was said to have been nabbed by authorities at a checkpoint and never seen again. As of May 2017, it appears that he is still missing. Also in 2012, Dawn wrote of how the ruling elite in Balochistan were living lifestyles that outshone "that of Arab royals." The Star has noted that while Balochistan is home to vast gas and mineral reserves, the province is the "most impoverished" in Pakistan. Quetta is said to be the ninth-most-populous city in Pakistan, the home of close to 1.2 million people.
World Report states that, in 2016, Pakistan implemented "vague and overbroad" laws pertaining to cybercrimes that chill freedom of speech and criminalize "peaceful internet use," such as in Zafar Achakzai's case. At least 85 executions were carried out in Pakistan in 2016. In neighboring Iran, The Guardian reported on 2015's "staggering execution rate," said to have been well over 800 by year's end. In 2016, Iran was thought to have executed between 203 and 437 individuals by the end of October.
© 2017 Stephen Sinclair