The Missing Baloch Journalist
By Malik Siraj Akbar
Following the disclosure by a recently released activist of the Balochistan National Party (BNP-Mengal) that a local Baloch journalist, Javid Lehri, is in a detention center of the Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) without being implicated in any case, journalists in Quetta have demanded the release of their fellow journalist.
Babu Sumalani, a young activist of the BNP, disclosed here on Saturday after spending six months in what he described as a ‘torture cell’ of an intelligence agency, that a Baloch journalist from Khuzdar district, Javid Lehri, too was being subjected to torture in a detention center.
Quetta Union of Journalists (QUJ) reacted to the disclosure and termed the arrest of the journalist as a clear violation of the freedom of press and democratic norms. The organization demanded the immediate release of the journalist and termed his arrest uncalled for.
Lehri, 20, also a BSc final year student at Degree College Khuzdar, was whisked away by a group of some 20 plain clothe and uniformed personnel of an intelligence agency on 30 November 2007 from Room No. 2 of Bugti Block at the Boys’ Hostel at Degree College Khuzdar.
An eyewitness told this blog about the raid that culminated into Lehri’s arrest that the remaining college students were forcefully locked into their rooms by the officials who raided the hostel.
“They asked us to switch our mobile phones off and threatened of dire consequences in case we walked out of our rooms,” he recalled, adding that they were also told not to get out of their rooms. However, when they, according to the eyewitness, who wished to remain unnamed in the press, got out of their rooms, they discovered that Javid Lehri and his roommate, Abdul Rehman Baloch, had simply disappeared. “We searched everywhere in the hostel but they had vanished in thin air,” he added.
Khan Mohammad Sabir, president of Wadh Press Club, who gave further details about this episode, told this blog that when they discovered that Lehri had been whisked away by unidentified persons, a group of local journalists and the father of Lehri went to meet the local District Police Office (DPO), Hamid Shakil, and requested him to lodge a case in connection to Lehri’s abduction.
“But we were startled when the DPO said he had no knowledge about the raid conducted on the boys’ hostel. When we requested him to register a case so that the police could at least start the search for Lehri, he refused to do so saying that it was beyond his capacity to register a case against the ‘shadowy forces’,” Sabir recalled.
Lehri’s family saw bacon of hope when Balochistan’s caretaker chief minister, Sardar Saleh Mohammad Bhootani, visited Khuzdar district a few months ago. When the family of the missing journalist as well as the fellow media persons reminded the CM about the disappearance of Javid Lehri, CM noted the names of the missing journalist and his colleague, Abdul Rehman.
“The CM promised to immediately look into the matter and use his good offices to get the journalist released but nothing has happened yet,” remarked the Wadh press club president.
When I contacted Ghulam Nabi Lehri, the father of Javid Lehri, he expressed his disappointment and disillusionment. He said he was a constant visitor of the Wadh Press Club. “I go there every day and ask the journalists if any headway has been made in connection to my son’s case. Their reply is always in negative. We are totally clueless about his whereabouts. We don’t know if he is dead or alive,” said the tearful father of Lehri.
“We want the government to stop intimidating the Baloch journalists who are being singled out by the establishment. There should be respect for dissenting views and difference of opinion,” demanded Mohammad Azam Ulfat, president of Quetta Union of Journalists.
Mohammad Asif, Editor of Daily Azadi, an Urdu language newspaper for which Lehri worked, said arresting journalists to avenge them for their reports they file for their respective newspapers was regrettable. “If the government has any complaints against a newspaper, it must opt for a civilized and democratic way of complaining,” he said, “but physically harming a reporter and putting him into a torture cell cannot be justified under any pretext.”