Wednesday, May 17, 2017
"Islamic State" militants have stormed a state-run broadcaster in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. Gunfire and blasts were heard while journalists are reportedly trapped inside the building.
Gunmen from the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) attacked a national television and radio station in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, engaging in a firefight with security forces, police confirmed.
The ongoing clashes have killed at least two people and wounded another 14, officials said. A health worker told news agency AFP that many of people who arrived at the hospital sustained gunshot wounds.
"Four attackers entered the RTA (Radio Television Afghanistan) building this morning. Two blew themselves up and two others are still resisting," government spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told AFP. Earlier, he said there had been three attackers.
Explosions and heavy gunfire could be heard around the RTA building, located close to the provincial governor's compound.
An RTA photographer told AFP that he fled the building shortly after the gunfight broke out but added that some of his colleagues were still stuck inside.
The attack began with an explosion, followed by a gun battle with security forces, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed.
Later on Wednesday, IS claimed responsibility for the attack in Jalalabad, which is the capital of Nangarhar province.
"Islamic State fighters are currently carrying out an attack inside the state broadcasting building in the city of Jalalabad," the movement's AMAQ news agency said in a statement on instant messaging service Telegram.
Nangarhar is known to contain both IS militants and the Taliban. Last month, the US military dropped a massive bomb on IS positions in the province, killing dozens of the extremist group's fighters.
The Taliban have also increased their attacks since announcing their spring offensive last month.
The Pakistani government is increasingly clamping down on internet dissent at the expense of fundamental rights, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should immediately end abusive state monitoring of internet activity, prosecute those committing violence on the basis of internet blasphemy allegations, and commit to upholding free expression for all.
On May 10, 2017, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) sent a text message to millions of citizens warning against sharing “blasphemous” content on social media and asking them to report such content. On May 14, the interior minister, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan, ordered the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) to take immediate action against “all those dishonoring the Pakistan Army through social media.”
“The Pakistani government’s crackdown on online expression will put dissenting voices at a greater risk in an already toxic environment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should focus on protecting those at risk of being attacked for their opinions instead of encouraging violence against them.”
These new government measures threaten greater censorship, arbitrary arrests of critical internet voices, and violence by militant groups against religious minorities and critics, Human Rights Watch said.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said that in response to its mass text messaging, it had already received 3,000 complaints regarding online “blasphemous” content. As of April, the government had blocked 12,968 websites, according to the Ministry of Information Technology. In March, the FIA arrested three people for posting allegedly blasphemous content online. The interior minister has also reportedly ordered the FIA to arrest social media users criticizing the army.
The Pakistani authorities have a long history of abuses against peaceful critics of the government and state security forces. Pakistani and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings of activists and journalists. The Taliban and other armed groups have also threatened media outlets and assaulted and killed journalists and activists for their work.
Pakistan's “Blasphemy Law,” as section 295-C of the penal code is known, carries a mandatory death sentence. Discrimination is permissible under the law against religious minorities, and the failure of Pakistan's federal and provincial governments to address religious persecution by militant Islamist groups effectively enables atrocities against those most vulnerable. The government seldom brings charges against those responsible for such violence and discrimination.
On March 7, the Islamabad High Court directed the Interior Ministry to ensure the removal of all alleged blasphemous material from websites in Pakistan, even if it required blocking access to all social media. On March 14, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered a ban on all blasphemous material online. On March 16, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan termed “blasphemers as enemies of humanity.”
The March measures and statements may have inspired a series of violent vigilante attacks related to blasphemy accusations. On April 13, university students in Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, stripped, beat, and shot a fellow student, Mashal Khan, inside the campus on accusations of blasphemy. On April 21, a man who fled the country after he was accused of blasphemy 13 years ago and had recently returned to Pakistan, was killed in Sialkot, Punjab province. On the same day, police and a local imamstopped a mob in Chitral, Gilgit-Baltistan attempting to lynch a man with mental disability for allegedly uttering blasphemous remarks. On May 4, police intervened to prevent a mob from killing a Hindu man accused of sharing blasphemous content on social media in Hub, Balochistan province, although a child died from the mob’s gunfire.
Pakistani law already adds to the hostile climate faced by journalists and activists, Human Rights Watch said. In August 2016, the government enacted a vague and overbroad cybercrimes law that threatens rights of privacy and freedom of expression. The law includes provisions that allow the government to censor online content, criminalize internet user activity, and access internet user data without prior judicial authorization.
Five activists – prominent poet Salman Haider, bloggers Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed, and Ahmad Raza Naseer, and social rights activist Samar Abbas – went missing or were taken away from different cities between January 4 and January 7. All five men were vocal critics of militant Islamist groups and Pakistan’s military establishment, and expressed their views on the internet. Their near simultaneous disappearances and the fact that the government immediately blocked access to their websites and blogs raised grave concerns of state involvement and resulted in popular protests. Four out of the five – all but Samar Abbas – have since been released. Waqas Goraya went to the Netherlands after his release and alleges that the security forces tortured him “beyond limits,” by punching, slapping, and forcing him into stress positions.
“Prime Minister Sharif has vowed to protect human rights, but is moving in the opposite direction,” Adams said. “Protecting critical speech on the internet is the standard by which governments are now held to be considered genuinely democratic.”
The father of Mashal Khan, a university student in Mardan who was lynched last month by a mob of students, has requested the Supreme Court (SC) to conduct the trial of his son’s murder case in Islamabad instead of Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
Mashal, a student of journalism at the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, was shot in the head and chest and then his body desecrated by a mob accusing him of committing blasphemy.
Citing security reasons, counsel for Mashal’s father Khawaja Azhar requested the apex court to transfer the case from Mardan to Islamabad. “Mashal’s sisters can’t go to school due to security issues,” the counsel told a three-judge bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar.
Mashal’s father Muhammad Iqbal Khan told the bench that he wanted to shift daughters from Swabi, the family’s hometown, to the capital. He lamented before the court that his son’s body had been desecrated for hours but police failed to take any action.
Khan, through his counsel, further informed the court that the police did not even cross-examine university lecturer Dr Ziaullah Hamdard, the main witness of the incident. Responding to the counsel, the bench observed that Mashal’s father can write a letter to the apex court’s human rights cell to redress his grievances. The bench also directed police to expeditiously submit the final challan against the suspects.
Meanwhile, the CJP observed that Mashal’s murder followed a protest movement but the police still remained ignorant. “If there had been negligence by the police officials, what disciplinary actions were taken against them?” the CJP asked. “Law is available for transfer of case from one place to another for ensuring fair trial.”
Earlier, K-P Additional Advocate General Waqar Khan informed the court that the provincial government, following a court order, withdrew its request for constitution of a judicial commission to probe the matter. Waqar also submitted a progress report on behalf of the police, claiming 53 accused have been arrested so far while two others are still at large. He went on to inform the court that the main suspect had also been arrested and subsequently a confessional statement was also recorded.
The court adjourned the hearing for three weeks.