In the former tribal district of South Waziristan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a jirga consisting of Zali Khel tribal elders took a controversial step by evicting the family of journalist Miraj Khalid Wazir. Their reason for eviction was the non-payment of a hefty fine of Rs 5 lakh.
In response to this incident, journalist Miraj Khalid Wazir’s father, Sher Ali Khan, who resides in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, addressed the situation in a video statement. He explained that his son, Miraj Khalid, had posted on social media, expressing disagreement with a decision made by the local jirga. The jirga interpreted Miraj Khalid’s post as disrespectful and ordered a hefty fine of Rs 5 lakh, along with the threat of demolishing their house.
Sher Ali Khan emphasized that their family belongs to a modest economic background and cannot afford to pay such a substantial fine. As a result, they decided to leave the area and relocated to a friend’s house in Rawalpindi on the evening of September 25.
It’s worth noting that journalist Miraj Khalid Wazir has been studying in China for the past year and has been working with private media organizations during his time there. According to him, the jirga’s decision stipulated that they could remain in their house as long as the fine remained unpaid, and they were forbidden from seeking refuge elsewhere. Furthermore, anyone providing them shelter would also be subject to a Rs 5 lakh fine, as per the jirga’s orders.
This controversy stemmed from a recent social media post by journalist Miraj Khalid, in which he expressed his viewpoint: “According to regional customs, it is wrong to demolish the house of a person guilty of any dispute because it affects the entire family, especially children, and women.”
Miraj Khalid Wazir explained that a nine-member traditional jirga had recently resolved a dispute between two parties. The jirga had imposed a house demolition penalty on one party involved. In response to this, Miraj Khalid Wazir shared his thoughts on social media, suggesting that there shouldn’t be a ‘state within a state.’
Subsequently, the traditional jirga not only ordered the demolition of Miraj Khalid Wazir’s house but also imposed a fine of five lakh rupees on him as a penalty for his criticism. According to Miraj Wazir, he wrote the post to advocate for the establishment of law enforcement in the former tribal districts. He asserted that if someone commits wrongdoing, it is the responsibility of the state to take legal action against them. Punishing an entire family for the actions of one individual is both unjust and unlawful in his view.
Miraj Khalid Wazir elaborated on the situation, explaining that following his social media post, the local jirga of the Zali Khel tribe issued an ultimatum for him to pay a fine of Rs 5 lakh by morning, stating that he had posted without their permission. They warned that if the fine was not paid, they would proceed with the demolition of his house. Despite the matter being reported in the media and police being deployed to their residence in Wana, the house was not demolished. However, the jirga sealed their house and subsequently evicted his family.
In response to these developments, Miraj asserted that as a journalist, he believes he has not committed any wrongdoing and therefore refuses to pay the fine. He expressed his readiness to face any legal action: “If the jirga believes that I have not engaged in any unlawful activity, they should file a case against me in court. I am prepared to contest the case and will abide by the court’s decision.”
District Police Officer South Waziristan, Farmanullah, acknowledged the efforts to provide security to journalists, emphasizing their commitment to preventing illegal actions. He confirmed they had successfully averted the demolition of Miraj Khalid’s house.
Assistant Commissioner of South Waziristan, Muhammad Nasir, corroborated the jirga’s decision and noted that police had been deployed to the journalist’s house. However, he stressed that demolishing someone’s house is an illegal act, and therefore, the administration could not permit it.
Rasool Dawar, a journalist from North Waziristan, shed light on the issue of illegal decisions made by so-called ‘Maliks’ and Chiefs through jirgas in the former tribal districts. He lamented that despite the weak government presence, the district administration and police often remain passive observers.
Dawar recounted a recent incident in the Razmak area of North Waziristan where a jirga of the Utmanzai tribe had set fire to the houses of two citizens. Subsequently, the jirga summoned him, but he declined to appear, asserting that the jirga was taking unlawful actions. As a journalist, he felt obligated to raise his voice against such injustices.
According to Dawar, journalists operating in tribal districts often hesitate to report such incidents due to concerns over the safety of themselves and their families in the face of the weak government presence.
Dawar highlighted that following the merger of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the relevance of jirgas has diminished. These areas now have formal law enforcement mechanisms, including police courts. When asked about legal recourse, he asserted that if anyone were to file a case in court against the actions of a jirga, the court would likely rule in favor of the aggrieved party. However, the reluctance of individuals to confront jirgas allows these assemblies to impose their decisions unilaterally.
The nine-member Jirga of Zali Khel, addressing a press conference at the District Press Club Wana, emphasized that their committee is dedicated to promoting peace and justice. They clarified that their intentions are not in opposition to the law or government; instead, they seek to resolve local issues through the traditional jirga system. Jirga member Malik Muhammad Aslam explained that their decision regarding journalist Miraj Khalid stemmed from his negative postings about the committee on social media.
Notice from the Caretaker Chief Minister
On a different note, the Caretaker Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Azam Khan, has taken strong notice of the situation. He has reached out to the Additional Chief Secretary Home and directed them to ensure the complete protection of the journalist’s family. The Chief Minister’s office issued a statement emphasizing that the relevant divisional and district administrations must take immediate action in this regard. The statement makes it clear that no individual or group will be allowed to demolish anyone’s house. The Chief Minister stressed that if someone has violated the law, it is the responsibility of the courts to administer justice in accordance with the law, not any group or individual.
Meanwhile, the journalist community in the tribal districts has launched protests against the decision to demolish journalist Miraj Khalid’s house due to non-payment of the fine. A significant gathering took place at the District Press Club Ladha on September 25, attended by presidents from Mehsud Press Club, Tank Press Club, North Waziristan Press Club, Wana Press Club, Dera Ismail Khan Press Club, Daman Press Club, and Betani Press Club, along with local journalists.
During this gathering, journalists vehemently denounced the jirga’s decision, describing the treatment of journalist Miraj Khalid Wazir in Wana as unjust and cruel. They criticized the demolition of his house under the pretext of a fine related to a social media post, deeming it an unfair and unlawful act that they strongly condemn. The journalists emphasized the importance of avoiding such restrictions, especially on tribal elders and journalists from North Waziristan and South Waziristan.
Note: This story is part of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) Research Fellowship.