SUKKUR: A day after being sealed by the district administration to avert a clash between two groups of journalists, Larkana Press Club was opened on Wednesday and forcibly occupied. The group occupying the club has deployed armed men inside the building.
Two groups of journalists have been at war since the past few years over ownership of the club. One, group led by Badar Shaikh and supported by reporter Baboo Iqbal, was not ready to give membership to many working journalists, which sparked differences between the two groups. This also led the journalists to hold separate elections and form two separate groups – the Larkana Union of Journalists led by Badar Shaikh and Larkana Unity of Journalists led by Niaz Abro.
The group led by Iqbal is occupying the press club building, while the other group led by Abro has been barred from entering. Journalists from both the groups blame each other of being politically motivated and acting on the orders of politicians.
Larkana Unity of Journalists general secretary Shiraz Pathan alleged that most of the members of the press club affiliated with the Iqbal group are government servants. “Baboo Iqbal is a contractor and was awarded contracts of big development projects and has usurped huge amount of development funds. Cases against him are under way in the anti-corruption establishment,” claimed Pathan.
He said that his group mostly comprises professional journalists who are denied membership to the press club, while those already in government jobs are enjoying membership. He accused the Baboo Iqbal group of enjoying political backing by some senior politicians and said this is why no action is taken against them. “We are least concerned with their personal characters, we just want all the professional and working journalists in the press club and those who are also serving in the government departments should be sent out,” he explained. “After unsealing the press club [Wednesday] afternoon, the Baboo Iqbal group has deployed armed men inside the press club to bar us from entering,” he alleged.
Shaikh denied the allegations and claimed to have never barred professional journalists from entering the press club. “But we are against the membership of non-professionals,” he explained. “The press club is not our personal property,” he said, adding that the press club president, Iqbal, is a contractor who has spent hundreds of thousands of rupees from his own pocket on the club. “We don’t have any difference with working journalists and they are more than welcome to join us, but it is wrong to bring journalists from other press clubs to harass us,” he said.
Shaikh said that on Tuesday the Abro-led group brought with them dozens of journalists belonging to other press clubs, such as those in Ratodero, Kamber-Shahdadkot, Bakrani, Naudero and others, to overpower them.
Larkana deputy commissioner Kashif Ali Tipu told The Express Tribune that the situation turned ugly on Tuesday and a clash between the two groups was likely, therefore they sealed the press club. “The journalist fraternity comprises an educated lot and therefore it was not decent for them to resort to violence,” he said. The DC said that on Wednesday he unsealed the club and warned both the groups against taking the law into their own hands.
“Delegations from both the groups have been called in for talks and I’m hopeful that the matter will be resolved amicably,” he added. During the Sindh Assembly session on Wednesday, journalists covering the assembly protested and staged a token walkout against the government decision to seal Larkana Press Club.