Tucked away on page 12 of today’s Sunday New York Times, just below the detailed article she was researching at the time, is a first-person account from reporter Carlotta Gall:
Rough Treatment for 2 Journalists in Pakistan
By CARLOTTA GALL
Published: January 21, 2007
My photographer, Akhtar Soomro, and I were followed over several days of reporting in Quetta by plainclothes intelligence officials who were posted at our respective hotels. That is not unusual in Pakistan, where accredited journalists are free to travel and report, but their movements, phone calls and interviews are often monitored.
On our fifth and last day in Quetta, Dec. 19, four plainclothesmen detained Mr. Soomro at his hotel downtown and seized his computer and photo equipment.
They raided my hotel room that evening, using a key card to open the door and then breaking through the chain that I had locked from the inside. They seized a computer, notebooks and a cellphone.
One agent punched me twice in the face and head and knocked me to the floor. I was left with bruises on my arms, temple and cheekbone, swelling on my eye and a sprained knee.
One of the men told me that I was not permitted to visit Pashtunabad, a neighborhood in Quetta, and that it was forbidden to interview members of the Taliban.
The men did not reveal their identity but said we could apply to the Special Branch of the Interior Ministry for our belongings the next day.
After the intervention of the minister of state for information and broadcasting, Tariq Azim Khan, my belongings were returned several hours later. Mr. Soomro was released after more than five hours in detention.
Since then it has become clear that intelligence agents copied data from our computers, notebooks and cellphones and have tracked down contacts and acquaintances in Quetta.
All the people I interviewed were subsequently visited by intelligence agents, and local journalists who helped me were later questioned by Pakistan’s intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence.
Mr. Soomro has been warned not to work for The New York Times or any other foreign news organization.
Carlotta Gall, along with the Times’ John F. Burns, is the finest international affairs journalist—well, war reporter—working today. I’ve followed her stories for years, going back to her reportage on the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
It’s terrifying that in the course of a few months, Gall has been attacked by a government ministry (of a country ostensibly allied with the U.S.), an editor, Hrant Dink, has been murdered for publishing a pro-Armenian newspaper in Turkey (today’s Times announced the capture of a 17-year-old suspect in the case, turned in to authorities by his father), a Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaya, who was critical of her govenment’s military operations in Chechnya was also murdered, as was the best-known TV journalist in Iraq, Atwar Bahjat. And one can’t forget Jill Carroll’s ordeal as a hostage in Iraq while on assignment for the Christian Science Monitor.
Altogether, in 2006 nearly sixty journalists lost their lives to violence while doing their job.
Heightening the dangers, apparently, is that notoriety as a reporter is no longer a deterrent, undermining decades-old tools such as Amnesty International’s letter-writing campaigns. To the contrary, in covering a beat populated by extremists fame may now be a liability. “The whole world is watching” might no longer be a phrase spoken by people defending journalists’ rights. It’s could just as easily be the cry of crazies getting just what they want.
If you’d like to help, consider donating to or becoming a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists.