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Christian media fear attacks after killing

Say threat of violence has hindered coverage and spurred more caution in reporting

Christian media fear attacks after killing
Fr Morris Jalal conducting a recent interview for Catholic TV reporter, Peshewar

January 19, 2012

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Christian journalists have expressed growing concerns for their safety after a reporter in Northern province was shot and killed earlier this week in an attack for which the Taliban has claimed responsibility. Mukarram Khan Aatif, a stringer for a US-funded Voice of America, was gunned down and killed by a masked assailant who entered a mosque and opened fire on January 17 in Shabqadar, a tribal town in northwestern Pakistan. “Constant fear of Taliban groups, the killing of journalists and threatening letters to churches hampers our area of coverage,” said an editor of a diocesan newsletter who spoke on condition of anonymity. He added that there were no other religious publications available in his region. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the killing of Aatif, with the group issuing a statement saying that it had warned Aatif about spreading what it called propaganda about the group in the international press. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has condemned the assassination in a press statement released yesterday. “That Pakistan is a perilous place for journalists is old news, since we have been labeled the most dangerous country in the world for a few years running now,” the statement said. “At least 17 journalists and media workers were killed in Pakistan in 2011 alone.” The Catholic communication desk in Rawalpindi diocese has reworked its editorial police in the wake of the killing of Aatif and others throughout the country. “We have stopped publishing political articles or analysis on the prevalent situation and are being more cautious,” said Banaras Khan, editor of the monthly diocese publication Shaloom. “Our focus is more on spreading gospel values and promoting harmony.” He added, however, that the publication has suffered a decline in subscribers amid security and financial concerns. “Subscribers have plunged to 500, about half less than we had a few years ago.” Capuchin Father Morris Jalal, executive director of Pakistan’s only Catholic television service, said authorities have also “indirectly” stopped the transmission of Christian persecution news on several occasions. “Our service remained suspended for three days for coverage of assassinated minority affairs minister last year. Cable operators refused to broadcast such programs for fear of closure,” he said. The International Press Institute recently ranked Pakistan as the fourth most dangerous place to work as a journalist.
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