Pakistani authorities must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into the attack on journalist Zahid Shareef Rana and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Sunday, March 27, a group of around 10 men assaulted Rana, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Daily Ausaf, in the Bhakkar district in the northeast Punjab province, according to a bystander’s video of the incident; a statement by the National Press Club in Islamabad, Pakistan; a statement by the Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists, and Rana, who spoke to CPJ by phone.
Rana told CPJ that on March 22, he published a report, which he has since deleted, on his Facebook page – which has around 35,000 followers– alleging that relatives and political associates of Ameer Muhammad Khan, a member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) for the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party in Punjab province, were engaging in criminal activities. Rana said that in response to his report, police raided the home of one of Khan’s close political associates, who is also a member of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
On March 27, Rana was shopping in a local store when a group of 10 of Khan’s relatives and political associates pulled him onto the street and held him by his wrists, repeatedly whipping him with ropes, and pouring a chemical usually used for painting on his eyes and ears, the journalist told CPJ. Rana said he lost consciousness five minutes into the attack, and the attackers then left the scene.
On the day of the attack, police registered a first information report, which opens an investigation, against 10 individuals, six of whom are named, at the local Kallur Kot police station, according to a copy of the report reviewed by CPJ.
“Police must launch an immediate investigation into the assault against journalist Zahid Shareef Rana and not allow any possible political pressure to derail it,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities need to put an end to Pakistan’s long record of impunity for crimes against journalists, including beatings, disappearances and murder. With the attack on Rana caught on video, police can offer no excuse for a failed investigation.”
Rana said he received medical treatment at a local hospital following the attack, adding that he sustained lesions all over his body and has lost hearing from the chemical poured into his right ear.
Rana told CPJ that he was previously targeted on January 5 after conducting a live interview with an opposition politician with the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, who accused Khan of corruption and abuse of power.
Rana said that about an hour after the interview aired, a car repeatedly attempted to ram into the vehicle he was traveling in, hitting the back twice before his friend managed to drive away. Rana, who documented the incident on his Facebook page at the time, said the car’s license plate was publicly registered to Khan’s first cousin.
The same day, police at the Kallur Kot station registered a first information report about the incident, Rana said, adding that the perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice.
CPJ emailed the office of MPA Khan and the Bhakkar district police office but did not immediately receive any replies.