Editor Malik Siraj speaks to Deutsche Welle about the ban on the Baloch Hal
(To listen to the interview: Click here)
I was interviewed this morning by German Radio station Deutsche Welle (DW) for its Asia Compact program about the ban on The Baloch Hal. Here is the full transcript of the interview conducted by DW’s Arun Chowdhury.
Deutsche Welle: On the show today, an English language newspaper from and on Balochistan has been blocked by the authorities. The possible bone of contention? (Malik’s voice) “We believe that the issue of the enforced disappearances has not been resolved in Balochistan and the provincial government has been unable to recover all of the missing persons in Balochistan.”
DW: The Baloch Hal or the Baloch news is an English language online newspaper that deals exclusively with news and analysis relating to Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Ten days ago, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) suddenly decided to block the newspaper because it allegedly carried some “anti-Pakistan” material.
I talked to the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Malik Siraj Akbar, who is currently a (Hubert Humphrey) fellow at Arizona State University.
Malik Siraj Akbar: The government of Pakistan has blocked The Baloch Hal which is the first online English language newspaper of Balochistan, which is in fact the most widely quoted newspaper of Balochistan. And right now, the newspaper is not available in major/principal parts of Pakistan and the government has not provided an explanation directly to the administration of The Baloch Hal. It (the government) has spoken to a few media outlets saying that it contained “anti-Pakistan” material but that is kind of an old excuse (used) by the government in the past and they did the same thing with The Baloch Hal without substantiating their allegations. Up till now, the website is not available in all parts of Pakistan.
DW: Has The Baloch Hal had problems with the authorities in the past?
MSA: Well, obviously, the government is not very pleased with our editorial policy. But we always provide them (the government authorities) sufficient opportunity to ventilate their opinion. Their spokespersons’ rebuttals were published word by word in The Baloch Hal which is unprecedented. Not many newspapers do it but we still told them not to take it personal. It was all professional and we did not attack someone personally. It was all criticism of the authorities in terms of their policies. However, the latest story that comes from Dawn News says that the military (authorities) were displeased and it (the newspaper) was blocked on their recommendations.
DW: What exactly has been the bone of contention? What kind of articles were there that, for example, government of Balochistan was displeased with?
MSA: We believe the issue of the enforced disappearance has not been resolved in Balochistan and the provincial government has not been able to recover all of the missing persons. It was a promise made by the Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, that all the Baloch political workers would be resurfaced. Right now, what see like, a lot of political activists’ dead bodies are recovering from different parts of Balochistan.
This is a very very serious issue in the province. A lot of families (of the missing persons) are complaining about it. So, we have been regularly reporting the issue in Balochistan whereas the national media has totally refused to cover this issue and because of it, the Baloch Students’ Organization (BSO) went on a boycott of the Pakistani media. So, all these cases were never reported and The Baloch Hal was the only newspaper which regularly covered the boycott of the national media and the issue of the the dead bodies of the “missing persons”.
DW: Let’s look at it from the point of view of Islamabad. Balochistan, as a province, as a part of Pakistan, is not entirely unproblematic. Could that be the reason for the extra-sensitivity?
MSA: Well, when you have an online newspaper, it has a global reach whereas the government’s policy has always been , I mean the policy of the military, has been to restrict access to Balochistan. Foreign journalists were always denied access to Balochistan. This province is never reported sufficiently. With the launching of The Baloch Hal, we opened a window for the rest of the world. The government, in the past, had a history of censoring the media but the concept of online media is very very new and they are really in panic. They don’t know how to pursue their agenda of the censoring the press.
DW: That was Baloch Hal‘s Malik Siraj Akbar speaking from Phoenix, Arizona