Baloch blogger gets asylum in US

Devirupa Mitra of the New Indian Express profiled me on November 20th after talking to me about my journalistic career.

In the interview, we discussed a wide range of issues, including my decision to apply for political asylum in the United States and the lack of positive response on the part of the Pakistani liberals over the state of affairs in Balochistan.

Given below is the full text of my profile published in the New Indian Express. You can also see the original article by clicking here.

Devirupa Mitra   November 20, 2011

NEW DELHI: Having faced constant threats for his reporting on Baluchistan’s nationalist movement, 28-year-old Pakistani journalist Malik Siraj Akbar has now taken asylum in the US. But it wasn’t an easy journey for him. He has even become the subject of a question at State Department press briefing.

Clearing the air on the Baluchistan national movement, which Islamabad has accused India of fermenting, he told Express over the phone from Washington, Balochistan nationalism was “entirely an home grown movement”. “It is entirely an indigenous movement… I want Indians to give us a platform to hear our views. But, at the same time, no foreign power should hijack it,” he said. At the same time, he asserted that as a “better democracy”, India should also champion the “export of democratic values”.

Malik has been working as a journalist since he was a 16-year-old, starting with local urdu newspapers, before joining a national media.

In 2005, he came to India to study in Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism, before returning to take up Quetta bureau chief post in a Pakistani national newspaper. Frustrated that majority of his stories on Balochistan did not even get published, he started Balochistan’s first online English newspaper, Baloch hal in 2009, as a shoe-string operation with a  number of friends.

“I feel betrayed most is by Pakistani liberals. The liberal elites have a very selective application of liberalism… When it comes to Balochistan they become total Punjabi patriots,” he said, even as he  added, “I am not a separatist. I just want the rule of law to be implemented here”.

Malik says he was often ‘advice’ by military and intelligence agencies. In 2007, he was taken for numerous ques­tioning from press club by military intelli­gence personnel, telling him not to report enforced disapperances. His latest run-in was in January last year, when he was accosted both before and after he attended a conference in Delhi. But, that was not the end, there were regular “sessions” with other intelligence agencies, as well as anonymous phone calls.

It was when he was on his US government-sponsored Hubert Humphrey fellowship last year that he started to get disturbing messages from home. One by one, his friends and colleagues were disappearing, and turning up as corpses with torture marks.

“I was emotionally devastated… these are the people with whom I have shared dorm rooms, had dinner and lunch routinely,” he said.

After, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority blocked his website, Baloch Hal in November last year, he applied for asylum. And it was granted within three months on October 27.

On November 15-16, the deputy state department spokesperson Mark Toner had to answer queries on the grant of asylum to Malik, noting that US had “serious concerns” on the freedom of press in Pakistan.

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