Oslo, June 30, 2002

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Back home to the former Yugoslavia

Ayub Masih, 32, was allegedly insulting the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. For that sin he was sentenced to death by hanging, and I visited his family when I was working in Pakistan.
Ayub Masih, 32, was allegedly insulting the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. For that sin he was sentenced to death by hanging, and I visited his family when I was working in Pakistan.

Pakistan and the surrounding areas are very fascinating places to work. However, now it's time for me to return "home" to the former Yugoslavia; it actually feels like my second home. While I have some knowledge about other areas in the world, the Balkans is my home base, and I have developed inside knowledge about this region. What I'm going to do when I return in the last part of July, I don't know. What I do know is that I have very good sources in the area, and therefore I'll work as a journalist initially, maybe for a long time if I make good money.

However, journalism is very exhausting when you are working as a freelancer, and you have no idea how much money you are going to have next month. In the long run I hope to work for the UN, OSCE or maybe I'll join the Norwegian army in Kosovo again. However, I don't worry too much. I have a family in Belgrade who has almost adopted me, and I'm always welcome, with or without money.

But let's go back to my experiences in Pakistan. As I mentioned in the previous newsletter, I experienced the Pakistani society from the inside the way few other journalists would. I will never forget the enormous hospitality offered to me. People took time off from work to spend time with me. However, what I didn't like was the Islamic fanatics present everywhere in Pakistan. This is the country where they sentence you to death for allegedly insulting the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Masih's brother Shahzad has collected support letters from all over the world.
Masih's brother Shahzad has collected support letters from all over the world.

As a journalist, freedom of speech and freedom of religion is fundamental for me, and I think these principles are worth dying for. When I met the family of Ayub Masih, a prisoner on death row since 1996 because of his faith,  freedom of religion became more than theory to me. Masih's family told me I was the first to present myself as a journalist to them, and you can read the complete story I did for the Christianity Today magazine here.

However, traveling from Masih's village, I used a very cheap bus service, and I had my camera stolen on the bus. One of the crew members on the bus was harassing me through the night asking repeatedly "Who is your father." When I stopped answering his question, he continued asking who is your brother, mother and sister. Finally I had had enough, and I turn to him telling him to give me a break.

An armed guard was probably also a part of the plot. He was pointing his assault rifle at me, probably as a joke. However, I've seen enough amateurs with weapons to be impressed, and I do not appreciate having a weapon pointed at me.

Police Inspector Zafar at the enormous Lari Adda bus stand in Lahore did everything he could to help me to get my camera back. However, he wouldn't be so helpful if I hadn't been a foreign journalist.
Police Inspector Zafar at the enormous Lari Adda bus stand in Lahore did everything he could to help me to get my camera back. However, he wouldn't be so helpful if I hadn't been a foreign journalist, unfortunately for Pakistan.
I think this harassment was a diversion for them to open my bag and steal my camera, but this is not the only indication that the bus crew has stolen my camera. When we came to Lahore, the bus crew seemed to be helping me to search the bus for the camera, and they served me tea. While I was talking to one of the guys, the others were talking among themselves in Urdu. Of course I don't speak Urdu, but I picked up the words Camera Computer. How could they know that I had a digital camera? I had never told them I was looking for a digital camera, and these cameras are not so common in Pakistan.

To contribute to the atmosphere, the bus crew talked about all the wonderful things the al Qaeda network and friend bin Laden did to promote Islam. Being alone in the bus, I didn't want to provoke any incident. This was at the same time my colleague Daniel Pearl of the Washington Post was kidnapped and decapitated, and I didn't want to end up like him accusing these people of stealing my camera. I left the bus at 5.30 in the morning, but I made sure to memorize the license plate.

It's good to have a friend like Nadeem Munawar when you are fighting the Pakistani beuraucracy. He knows what buttons to push to make everyone obey you.
It's good to have a friend like Nadeem Munawar when you are fighting the Pakistani beuraucracy. He knows what buttons to push to make everyone obey you.

That was a very good idea. And I am blessed to have my friend Nadeem Munawar. He helped me to track down the bus, and he confronted the bus crew. Nadeem is a brilliant man. He played with the minds of the bus crew and owner, the police, the local mayor and the manager of the main bus hub in Lahore. Everyone thought someone higher up in the system had asked them to do everything in their power to help me. Since I was a foreigner and especially a journalist, the Pakistani police was very cooperative. I also have to say that Police Inspector Zafar did a very good job with the bus crew, even if he wouldn't give the same treatment to locals.

I've had three meetings with the bus crew and owner at the police station, and the final outcome was that they paid me 22,500 rupees, or 369 dollars. I got a new camera for 38,000 rupees or 623 dollars. I guess I paid 250 dollars as a penalty for not watching my bag closely enough.

However, in the last meeting at the police station, I met Saira, a 15-year-old girl who was about to get forcefully married to a cousin. She run away from a village four hours away, but she had ended up in the police station. Sometimes you should not intervene as a journalist. Other times it would be wrong not to do anything. Read what I did in the CT magazine.

Norina an 11-12 year-old Afghan refugee girl in Peshawar, Pakistan ran away to the neighbors when I came to visit. She thought her father had sold her to me for marriage.
Norina an 11-12 year-old Afghan refugee girl in Peshawar, Pakistan ran away to the neighbors when I came to visit. She thought her father had sold her to me for marriage.


In Pakistan, I have lived a pretty intense life, and I'm full of impressions and experiences. I do not regret at all that I went on this journey, but this is the most exhausting thing I've done. And I'm full of memories. I remember Norina, an 11-12-year-old girl from Kabul who has just been sold for 1630 dollars by her father for marriage. The father told me they lost everything the first day the Americans bombed Kabul,and he needs to sell his daughter to have some money.

When I came to their mud house covered by blankets, Norina ran away to the neighbor. She was terrified of me, and she was afraid her father was going to sell her to me. I had to spend some time calming her down telling her that it would not be possible for us to marry. "You are a Muslim, and I am a Christian. I'm not here to marry you," I told her through a translator. Doing this job made me physically ill. I paid the father to be able to talk to the family, and I had mixed feelings about that. I did not want to support their business, but I think it is very important give wide coverage to these issues.

Maybe I'll return to this area at some point, but first of all I'd like to take advantage of my knowledge of the southeastern corner of Europe. Que sera, sera, or whatever happens, happens.

Sincerely

--
Kristian Kahrs, journalist, Southeastern Europe
Homepage: http://home.no.net/kkahrs
Serbian mobile: +381 638 504 383
Kosovo mobile: +377 44 186 527
Norwegian mobile: +47 93 00 25 22


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