Journalists call for increased protection after Quetta blast

By Javed Mahmood

Members of the Karachi Press Club August 9 protest the August 8 Quetta suicide bombing that killed more than 70 people. [Javed Mahmood]

Members of the Karachi Press Club August 9 protest the August 8 Quetta suicide bombing that killed more than 70 people. [Javed Mahmood]

KARACHI -- Journalists across Pakistan are mourning the loss of two TV cameramen killed in a suicide attack August 8 in Quetta.

The suicide bombing at Quetta Civil Hospital, which was apparently timed to decimate a crowd mourning an assassinated lawyer, killed at least 70 people, including Aaj TV cameraman Shahzad Khan and Daw News cameraman Mehmood Khan.

Both the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) splinter group Jamatul Ahrar and a Pakistani faction of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) claimed responsibility.

"The blast occurred after a number of lawyers and some journalists had gathered at the hospital following the death of Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of the Balochistan Bar Association," Balochistan Home Secretary Mohammad Akbar Harifal said.

Kasi was gunned down in Quetta earlier that day.

As lawyers and reporters gathered in the hospital to meet Kasi's body, the suicide bomber struck.

"The bomber had strapped 8kg of explosives packed with ball bearings and shrapnel on his body," Balochistan Bomb Disposal Unit chief Abdul Razzaq said, according to AFP.

'Terrorism cannot deter journalists'

Journalists, shocked by the loss of so many lives, are remembering the two colleagues who perished.

"We have lost two of our nicest and hardest-working media colleagues," Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Quetta Press Club (QPC), said.

"Both were our great friends, very friendly, committed workers," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that members of the QPC have expressed grief and sorrow over the two cameramen's deaths.

"[Shahzad] was a brave cameraman and covered every event by putting his life at stake just for his profession," he said.

Mehmood Khan, a father of seven, was very ambitious, his colleagues say. He worked as a security guard before joining Dawn as an office worker and then cameraman.

He wanted to obtain a master's degree in journalism en route to becoming a reporter, but terrorism ended his plans.

"Every life lost ... is precious for us," Zulfiqar said. "We strongly condemn terrorism and want strong action against the planners and facilitators of the blast, which destroyed many families."

"Terrorism cannot deter journalists from doing their job," he said. "We will continue to serve the nation with the same zeal and ... without any fear for our lives."

Safety training, security for media workers

Alveena Agha, a Karachi-based journalist and educator, said she recently attended a workshop with Shahzad Khan on "Physical Safety Training for Journalists and Media Persons".

"I found him a very nice, friendly media worker, and I felt a great shock over his sudden death," she told Pakistan Forward.

Journalists should have proper security when they go in the field to cover breaking news and risky developments, she said.

"Media workers must be given security like soldiers when they cover sensitive events," Imtiaz Khan Faran, president of the Karachi Union of Journalists and former president of the Karachi Press Club, told Pakistan Forward.

Journalists work on the front line like soldiers, but the government and security agencies do not provide them with protection, he said.

"Journalists working in the field must be given bullet-proof jackets and helmets by the government, security agencies or their own media organisations," Faran said.

Such equipment is the only way to protect media workers on dangerous assignments, he added.

Compensation for martyrs

"Journalists are the Fourth Estate, but they don’t have any support or proper compensation in case of any casualty or serious injuries," Faran said.

Balochistan Province has been a dangerous beat for journalists in recent years.

Since 1992, 33 Pakistani journalists have been assassinated, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Eight of those 33 were killed in Balochistan.

The Balochistan government has provided some financial support to the families of journalists who were killed in the province, but nobody else has, he said.

"Families of [fallen] soldiers and policemen obtain adequate financial compensation, pensions, plots of land and jobs," Mubasher Mir, security analyst and resident editor of Daily Pakistan in Karachi, said.

"But the families of journalists ... get nothing," he told Pakistan Forward.

Mir called for the Pakistani government to register journalists working nationwide and to provide them with death and injury benefits.

"I know many journalists in Karachi who suffered serious injuries during coverage of events," he said. "They are leading a miserable life as no one is supporting them."

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