No Justice For Lahore’s Woman Journalist Who Was Murdered For Launching Newspaper
Reporters Without Borders (RWB) has issued a detailed report on the case of a female journalist who was murdered in Lahore in 2019. The findings are being published below.
A single shot to the head took the life of the young Pakistani reporter Arooj Iqbal in the eastern city of Lahore in November 2019. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has retraced her steps, questioning her family, her colleagues and the police in order to shed light on a murder that has gone completely unpunished – a tragic case revealing archaic attitudes and customs.
She wanted to be the first Pakistani woman journalist to create her own newspaper. Her dream was shattered, destroyed, in the most violent way. Arooj Iqbal will go down in Pakistan’s history as the first woman journalist to be murdered because of her work.
A few hours before the publication of the first issue of Choice, the local newspaper she had just founded, this 27-year-old woman’s lifeless body was found on 25 November in a pool of blood on a street in Lahore, eastern Pakistan’s megapolis. The leading suspect was and still is her ex-husband.
“Arooj Iqbal’s murder is a challenge for all Pakistani citizens,” said RSF’s Pakistan representative Iqbal Khattak, who conducted RSF’s field investigation. “This case is causing an impact here, where it is seen as a classic example of how the poor can be denied justice in Pakistan. I regard it as a collective failure on the part of our society, which has proved unable to get justice done for her bereaved family.”
Absence of security
“Arooj Iqbal’s brutal murder speaks to the complete absence of security in the working lives of women journalists in Pakistan, to the way they must constantly endure contempt, threats, violence and dependency on male superiors,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, who coordinated the research.
“We call on Pakistan’s highest judicial authorities to address the shocking impunity that marks this case, and we condemn the archaic practices that will lead to more women journalists being murdered in Pakistan if nothing changes.”
Tahira Begum (photo:IK / RSF)
RSF met Tahira Begum, Arooj Iqbal’s mother, in the courtyard of their small, two-room home in the labyrinth of Old Lahore. “Arooj was clearly targeted because of her journalism work,” she immediately said. “The last time we spoke, she told me she had everything ready to open her office the next day. Unfortunately, she was murdered just before she could do this.”
It was Arooj’s brother, Yasir Iqbal, who received the tragic phone call at 10:44 p.m. on 25 November announcing that she had been killed by a shot to the head. The next morning, he filed a complaint – known in Pakistan as a First Information Report (FIR) – at Qilla Gujar Singh police station.
Violence and harassment
According to Yasir, Arooj’s murderer was none other than her ex-husband, Dilawar Ali, the owner of Anti-Crime, a newspaper specializing in crime stories for which Arooj used to work. “He wanted her to drop the idea of launching her own local newspaper,” Yasir told RSF a week after the murder. His FIR quotes him as saying: “I am dead sure that Dilawar killed my sister or had her killed.”
Yasir Iqbal, Arooj’s brother (photo: IK / RSF)
Three days before being murdered, Arooj had herself filed a complaint at the same police station accusing Dilawar Ali of beating and mistreating her. Her FIR is a long list of acts of harassment and violence against her by Dilawar. She visited her family the next day, 23 November, and told them she was scared because Dilawar had threatened to kill her.