Television stations in Pakistan are under fire for their continued black out of peaceful rallies by an ethnic Pashtun movement against extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances of Pashtuns, particularly those living in the volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement organized its latest rally this week in the northwestern city of Peshawar, with thousands of people in attendance, including women.
The movement is being led by a 26-year-old tribesman, Manzoor Pashteen from South Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas, commonly known as FATA.
Pashteen said while addressing Sunday’s rally his community is calling for their constitutional “right to live without fear”. He emphasized again PTM is a peaceful movement and its demands are constitutional.
Participants carried portraits of relatives they claimed went missing during years of counterterrorism military operations in FATA, suspecting they were in official custody for alleged links to militants.
The protesters reiterated their call for authorities to clear mines planted in their areas during security operations. The tribesmen have also been complaining of harassment of their religiously and culturally conservative families at security checkpoints and imposition of frequent curfews in FATA while hunting militants. They say an entire tribe is being collectively penalized under existing laws.
While some mainstream newspapers, mainly English language dailies, prominently covered the rally in their Monday editions, dozens of news channels, official and privately-owned, gave little to no airtime to the rally.
Government officials and the state-run Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority said they had nothing to do with the media blackout of PTM’s rally, prompting speculations the powerful military could be behind stifling the coverage.
Human rights defender Tahira Abdullah condemned the media blackout for not reporting on the rally “out of fear of the establishment.” The term “establishment” is used in Pakistan for military-led security institutions.
Private Dawn TV’s political talk show host, Mubashir Zaidi, says the media blackout of Sunday’s significantly big rally was unprecedented.
“Somewhere someone powerful conveyed it to media outlets not to cover the rally or the media directors themselves decided not to air the rally for some unspecified reason,” Zaidi lamented.