Washington, D.C. — Voice of America condemns the killing of one of its reporters in Northwest Pakistan’s lawless tribal region today and urges local authorities to do more to protect journalists.
Mukarram Khan Aatif, a reporter for VOA’s Deewa Radio, was taking part in evening prayers at a local mosque near his home in the town of Shabqadar when he was shot by unidentified gunmen. Mr. Aatif, who along with other Deewa journalists faced repeated threats from militants in the region, died of his wounds late Tuesday after being taken to a hospital in the city of Peshawar. A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing.
VOA Director David Ensor paid tribute to Mr. Aatif, who was in his 40s and had been working for Deewa Radio since 2006. “Mr. Aatif risked his life on a daily basis to provide his audience with fair and balanced news from this critical region and we mourn the loss of our colleague. We call on authorities in Pakistan to do more to protect all journalists working there and bring his killers to justice,” Ensor said.
Walter Isaacson, the Chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, said, “On behalf of the entire Board of Governors, we condemn the murder of this courageous reporter in the strongest possible terms. The targeted assassination of Mr. Aatif is a tragic reminder of the dangers facing our journalists on a daily basis.”
Aatif’s VOA colleagues are mourning the loss of their co-worker, who also reported for local TV stations in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area, a stronghold of Taliban and al Qaida militants who are blamed for the deaths of more than two dozen journalists since 2004. Colleagues say Mr. Aatif had been threatened many times but continued to report on militant attacks, military operations, and social issues.
Witnesses say one of the attackers waited outside the mosque on a motorcycle while another masked gunman entered the building and fired several shots at Mr. Aatif, who was struck in the head. Journalists and colleagues from Pakistan’s tribal regions rushed to the hospital where he died.
In an interview with Deewa Radio, Selab Mehsud, a leading member of the Tribal Union of Journalists demanded the government investigate the killing and punish those responsible. For the past two years, Reporters Without Borders has named Pakistan as the world’s deadliest country for journalists.
VOA’s Pashto language Deewa Radio, which recently began broadcasting on satellite television, is one of the leading sources of news in Northwest Pakistan’s tribal area.
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