It sounded like thunder. My colleague and I stared at each other for a good 30 seconds, wondering what that noise could possibly be. Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.
“Maybe someone was moving furniture upstairs”, offered my colleague to my quizzical expression.
And then the storm came.
Chaos. Panic. Fear.
That wasn’t thunder, nor was it people moving furniture; somebody had emptied entire magazines on our office. The Express Tribune was under fire, literally.
They say when you are scared, you go numb and every minute feels like an hour. Let me tell you that I have never experienced fear like that. Not only did we not know what had happened, who had attacked us and why we were targeted, we had no idea if the danger still existed.
News started pouring in; a staffer had been shot as had one of the guards of the company. Men on motorcycles had opened fire on us and the message was clear as crystal.
Zip your lips or we will kill you.
But what do you do when your job requires you to do the very opposite? What do you do when you are meant to inform and to educate no matter what the risk?
It was really a no-brainer. The interns went home, the staff kept working like nothing had happened.
Yet, the taste of fear lingered in our mouth. Going back home that day was the worst, because it required stepping out of the building. I remember vividly that I stuck my head out from behind the gate, peeped to left and asked the guard,
“Koi goli toh nai maar de ga?”
(Will anyone shoot me?)
It was funny at the moment, but the fear was all real.
The next day, we had some security here and there, and some barriers erected, but when someone has a gun in their hands and a mission, the goal is painfully easy.
Sure enough it happened again.
On December 2, 2013, from the safety of the KPT bypass, grenades were flung at Express News’s office again and just like the last time, firing ensued. Just like the last time, a guard was injured and just like the last time, terror prevailed.
It seems as though in Pakistan, you have a choice; either kill freedom of speech or dig your own grave.
The difference here though is that journalists are ready to give their lives up, so committed are they to seeing a better Pakistan. My former colleagues stayed at work and put the paper to bed before they went home as per usual; they worked as though nothing happened because no amount of intimidation can silence this committed bunch.
The journalist community protested outside the press-club and a 72 hour ultimatum has been given to the government to arrest those behind the attacks. I doubt anything of the sort will happen, but my community too has sent out a message and that is ‘we will not be silenced’.
It’s a step – albeit a baby step – but a step nonetheless.
Like Atticus Finch said,
“Simply because we were licked a 100 years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win”
I am certain that attempts to intimidate the journalist community will continue for the foreseeable future, but I am also certain that we will not stop – such is the strength of my community.
We will continue to look left for bullets and right for grenades before we cross the road to come to work. We will do this till the ruffians realise that their attempts are futile.