A “hit-list” of journalists targeted for murder is reportedly being circulated in Pakistan, currently the deadliest country in the world for the news media, informed sources have told the International News Safety Institute (INSI).

Sixteen journalists were murdered in Pakistan last year, and that pattern of violence seems to be continuing in 2011 with two journalists killed in the past two weeks.

Twenty-nine year-old Wali Khan Babar, shot dead in Karachi on January 13, was one of 16 names on the hit-list, the sources said.

INSI called on the Pakistani government and police to intervene and stop the killings.

“The Pakistani authorities have a duty to protect all citizens, journalists included,” said INSI Director Rodney Pinder. “Pakistan already is number one in the world for journalist murders — it is beyond time now for real action.

“This list apparently identifies people lined up for murder. The government must act swiftly to protect them and arrest those responsible for this shocking state of affairs.”

The shooting of Babar has spooked the media community in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. The journalist, who worked for the private television channel Geo News, was stuck in a traffic jam on his way home when a man stopped outside his car, pulled out his pistol and shot him several times in the head, according to police. They say they are treating the killing as premeditated murder.

Fifteen other names are reported to be on the hit-list, which is said to be comprised of mainly ethnic Pashtun journalists and is being attributed by many Karachi journalists to the militant wing of MQM, Pakistan’s third largest and most liberal political party.

INSI has not seen the list, but it is believed to be in possession of the authorities. INSI sources understand that one correspondent has gone into hiding after being told by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik that he was number two on the list behind the dead man, Wali Khan Babar.

In recent months, ethnic violence has spiralled in Karachi, with shootings and targeted killings increasing in frequency. And as the violence intensifies, so too does the political vitriol, with the MQM party remaining at loggerheads with the mainly Pashtun ANP, both of whom blame each other for undermining law and order in the city.

In Karachi, INSI’s sources say the military has been deployed – so far with limited result – but that is unlikely to be of much comfort to the city’s journalists.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warned last week that the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of the Punjab Province in Pakistan, may open the door to a new wave of political intolerance and pressure on journalists across the country. It said that unless media and journalists isolate extremists and challenge incitement to violence the killing will lead to fresh attacks and the targeting of journalists who defend the right to free expression.

Source: The Sunday Leader – 23.01.2011