In a country where incidents of violence against the press were among the highest in the world, Razia Bhatti (1944-1996) took on drug cartels, ethnic and fascist political parties, militant Islamic groups, a president’s son-in-law, a prime minister’s spouse and successive governments. She broke taboos and transgressed limits imposed on freedom of expression by authoritarian regimes as well as a conservative society.
In 1996, the Pakistan Press Foundation called her untimely death at the age of 52 an “end of a golden chapter of journalism in Pakistan.” Throughout her career, Bhatti was driven to present unbiased, accurate and comprehensive reports on issues affecting the people of Pakistan.
Razia first entered professional journalism in 1967 when she joined The Illustrated Weekly of Pakistan. The magazine was then renamed Herald and shifted the focus from lifestyles to current events and political issues. In 1970, Razia became the Assistant Editor of Herald and then became Editor in 1976.
Razia resigned from the magazine when she was pressured to write in favor of the General Zia’s regime, which was established by a military coup and was known for repression and censorship. Most of her team of journalists resigned with her and together they established a magazine called Newsline, which covered a wide range of current affairs including political corruption and women’s rights.
Bhatti wrote of her mission, “Newsline is the venture of a team of working journalists who want to serve this nation in the way they know best: to seek the truth, to spotlight injustice and to fight for redress. We hope not only to appeal to the reason, but to touch the heart.”
Even after she received the 1994 IWMF Courage Award, the Pakistani authorities did not stop harassing her. In August 1995, police raided Razia’s home early morning demanding her to appear for a criminal case, which was filed against her by then Sindh Governor, Kamal Azfar, in retaliation for a story about him in Newsline. The news of the raid on her house triggered protests from journalists and human rights activists from across the country, leading Azfar to retreat and withdraw all charges against Razia and the journalist who wrote the story.
In the first issue of Newsline Razia wrote, “The press in Pakistan shares the guilt of this nation’s state. It has been silent when it should have spoken, dishonest when it should have been forthright, succumbed when it should have stood fast.” She died at her home in Karachi in March, 1996.
Razia Bhatti is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Pakistan.Read also:
New York Times obituary: Razia Bhatti, 52, Who Headed Crusading Journal in Pakistan (March 18, 1996)
Zubeida Mustafa, Pakistan | 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award