Oslo, June 30, 2002
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.|
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.|
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, unfortunately for 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.|
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.
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
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