Hundreds protest Pakistan reporter killing

19th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Musa Khan Khel had been reporting on a pro-Taliban cleric who was marching for peace after signing a deal with the Pakistan government to impose strict Islamic law in the area.

Mingora – Hundreds of Pakistanis on Thursday protested against the killing of a TV reporter in the insurgency-torn Swat valley, where an elderly cleric made peace overtures to a firebrand commander.

Unknown gunmen shot Musa Khan Khel, 28, in the head and body Wednesday near the town of Matta. He was shot in the former ski resort where Islamist hardliners led by Maulana Fazlullah have waged a nearly two-year campaign to enforce sharia law.

He was buried in Mingora, the main town of Swat, on Thursday, where around 600 people, mostly journalists, attended his funeral and angrily called on the government to bring his assassins to justice.

Khel, correspondent for the private Geo channel in Swat, had been reporting on Soofi Mohammad, the pro-Taliban cleric who was marching for peace after signing a deal with the Pakistan government to impose strict Islamic law in the area.

There has been no claim of responsibility for his killing. Khel was the fourth journalist in Swat to be killed in the last year.

The murder underscored the rampant dangers in the valley, where thousands of Fazlullah's followers have beheaded opponents, bombed schools, outlawed entertainment and bitterly fought government troops.

More than 500 people, including journalists and lawyers, marched from the press club to the governor's house in the main northwest city of Peshawar, asking the government to protect media personnel, an AFP correspondent said.

Protesters outside the governor's house, wearing black bands on their arms and foreheads, chanted: "We want justice", "We want Musa Khan Khel's killers arrested" and "We salute Musa Khan Khel's courage."

"Our government should provide full protection to journalists, who are becoming victims in the war on terror," the president of the Khyber Union of Journalists, Mohammad Riaz, told the rally.

More than 500 media workers staged a rally in the eastern city of Lahore. Chanting "Down with Taliban," they too demanded protection for journalists.

Members of several political parties, including the opposition parties of former cricket hero Imran Khan and former premier Nawaz Sharif, also participated.

"Musa Khan Khel's murder is an attack on freedom of press," said Rana Aziz, secretary general of the Punjab Union of Journalists.

Witnesses said protests were also held in Karachi and Multan; in Bannu, Nowshera and Mansehra in the North West Frontier Province; Quetta, where a UN official was kidnapped this month; and Bajaur, North Waziristan and Khyber, in the country's semi-autonomous tribal areas.

"We condemn the ghastly assassination and urge the government to investigate the killing and bring those responsible for committing the crime to justice," said Mazhar Abbas, the head of Pakistan's Federal Union of Journalists.

Soofi Mohammad, who is considered a relative moderate by the government despite being jailed in Pakistan for six years, met the firebrand Fazlullah for talks on Thursday that a Taliban spokesman said centred on peace.

"Both the leaders held a meeting early Thursday," said the spokesman, Muslim Khan. "They discussed the agreement signed by Soofi Mohammad and the government, and peace in the region." Khan gave no further details.

Analysts have speculated about how much influence Mohammad holds over Fazlullah, his son-in-law, charging that the deal will embolden militants.

But the Taliban spokesman condemned Khel's killing.

"It is the work of those who do not want peace in the region and are opposed to the deal signed between Soofi Mohammad and the government," he said.

Monday's agreement accepts Islamic law as the only system of justice in the Malakand district, home to three million people and of which Swat is part.

Pakistan has hailed the agreement as a chance to quell the insurgency, which has seen thousands of people flee. But the move has provoked alarm in Europe, Afghanistan and India.


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