Monday, 1 August 2016

QK archive: The Frontier Post and the blasphemy incident

QK note: Munawwar Mohsin was released from prison in November 2004.
For more on the story https://rsf.org/en/news/frontier-post-staffer-released-prison

The story of an addict convict
Faiz Ullah Jan
Published circa 2002

A young Bengali, leaving behind a promising future and his family in Bangladesh, set out for Pakistan by crossing into India. Reached Iran from where he entered Balochistan and ultimately settled in Islamabad. Betrothed to an educated young lady for years, Munawwar Mohsin could not marry her. Dejected, he started puffing heroin while working in different newspapers in the federal capital.

It was perhaps the easy availability of heroin that pulled him to Peshawar where he finally ended up in prison to serve a life-term and pay a fine of Rs50,000: for being heroin addict? No! For attempting to smuggle heroin? Again No! Munawwar was sentenced by the sessions court under blasphemy law for having published a sacrilegious letter in The Frontier Post.

Munawwar was a well-groomed—but disgruntled—lad who would often quote English classics and dialogues from famed Hollywood movies with an impeccable pronunciation. Not having any contact with his parents or brothers, he was a rootless youngman taking shelter in chasing the dragon.

Knowing full-well that he has fallen foul with the society because of his addiction, Munawwar would promise his friends in The Frontier Post not to puff heroin ever again once he is helped detoxificated. His friends at the news desk once took him to a private detoxification center and got him admitted there. Having being cured he very happily gathered congrats from friends.

He once again looked a promising journalist, and even started talking of developing his own family by marrying if none else than an Afghan refugee woman. Then came another calamity: The Frontier Post stopped paying its employees because of ‘financial crisis’. It hit Munawwar more than any other person. He already had no one to bank on; neither had he any other source of income, no home and no hearth. He would stay one night here, another night there after he was driven out by the F.P. from its hostel.

But it was sheer irony of fate or something else that Munawwar and F.P. could not part ways for ever. Munawwar had no other place to go while the paper had a skeleton staff working without pay. While those who could afford another job [or could not afford to work without pay anymore] left the paper. But still there were people like Munawwar working with the paper—some in the hope that one day they might get their salary backlog, while others had so far no other place to go.

These were the worst days in The Frontier Post. The management could not exercise authority for the obvious reason and the workers worked at their own will. There was no central authority and no one could hold others accountable for the simple reason that no one could insure their salary. This situation brought Munawwar back to The Frontier Post when he had already relapsed.

Munawwar, by now a chronic heroin addict, started editing the all important editorial pages of F.P. because it was short of staff in every section. Since the paper by now had always been experiencing a dearth of written material—whether it was news, views or letters—whatever the staff could lay hands on they would publish. And this audacity in handling this sensitive profession in a casual manner paid Munawwar, and paid him dearly.

Munawwar was one of the first persons, including news editor, to have been arrested by the police soon after the publication of the blasphemous letter on January 29, 2001 purported to have been sent by an American Jew via e-mail. The rest of the people were released on bail after a judicial tribunal completed its enquiry. Being the main ‘culprit’ after having confessed Munawwar has been behind bars since then.

Finally came the day when the sessions court gave its verdict: sentencing Munawwar to life imprisonment with a fine of Rs50,000. A doctor of the Mental Hospital, Peshawar, testified before a judicial inquiry tribunal that a few days before the publication of the blasphemous letter Munawwar had escaped from the hospital and that the newspaper management had been informed about it. The letter by Bin DZac was no doubt blasphemous by all means. But was Munawwar mentally sound enough to handle such an important page single-handedly can be contested.