By Harald Doornbos in Islamabad
It looked like the perfect story for the international media, human rights activists and for millions of hungry tweeps around the world looking for anything exciting to fill their generally dull timelines on twitter: A couple accused of adultery had been stoned to death in a remote part of Pakistan – on Valentine’s day.
After details of the apparent stoning emerged in Pakistani newspapers on February 17th 2014 (http://www.dawn.com/news/1087572/couple-stoned-to-death-in-loralai-village), the international media quickly picked up the report. Reuters wrote on 18th February a piece with the headline: “Pakistani couple stoned to death for adultery; six arrested” (http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/17/us-pakistan-couple-stoned-idUSBREA1G18F20140217). News agencies and papers like AFP and The Times of London did the same. TV stations followed suit. On social media, the story received considerable attention. And the many comments were rather predictably. “What a f***** country,” commented @1974Hamilton on his twitter account. While others like @3dogmary wrote: “More religion of peace. Savages. Animals.”
But five days after the apparent incident, the findings of an autopsy report by Baloch authorities in the provincial capital Quetta make it clear that the stoning never took place. Yes – the couple were indeed killed on suspicion of adultery in a remote part of Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province. But no – they were not stoned.
“According to the autopsy report the man was shot twice and the woman was hit by a shovel or a sharp object on the head,” says Shezad Baloch, a Quetta-based correspondent for Pakistan’s daily The Express Tribune, when contacted by phone. Baloch first broke the story that the couple were not stoned to death today, Wednesday, in an article published on the website of his newspaper. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/673520/loralai-deaths-couple-not-stoned-to-death-autopsies-show/)
The reporter has seen the autopsy report himself and according to him he interviewed twelve people involved in the case, among them a female doctor and a high ranking Pakistani official who both were involved in exhuming the bodies and the medical investigation.
“I have investigated the story for three days now and the part of the stoning is just not true,” Baloch says. Is there a chance the Pakistani authorities are trying to cover up a possible stoning to safeguard the image of the country? “I am sure they are not covering up the truth,” says Baloch, “Because in that case one of my sources would have told me of the record: The stoning actually took place but we don’t want to admit it. This did not happen. I am more than hundred percent sure the stoning did not take place.”
Recently, various stories extensively shared on social media have turned out to be hoaxes or only partly true.
Last month for instance, a dramatic picture of what activists claimed was a Syrian boy sleeping between the graves of his parents in Syria turned out to be part of an art project photographed in Saudi Arabia. (https://haralddoornbos.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/saudi-photographer-telle-me-this-is-not-syria-its-not-a-grave-and-the-boys-parents-are-not-dead/)
Only a couple of days ago, a picture went viral of a four year old Syrian boy who crossed alone a desert to safety after he had lost his parents. As it turned out the next day, the boy was never alone. His parents were about twenty steps in front of him. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/02/18/that-4-year-old-syrian-refugee-wasnt-alone-but-his-story-is-still-heartbreaking/)
“The problem here in Balochistan is that due to low salaries there are not that many good and professional reporters around,” claims Baloch, the Pakistani reporter, “Some inexperienced journalists don’t investigate if a story is actually true. They go after rumors. And the international media just blindly follows.”
According to Baloch “it is rumors, bad reporting and the internet does the rest.”
“Many people think: Oh, it’s Pakistan with those crazy Muslims, so the story of stoning must be true,” says the journalist, who is also active on twitter (@ShezadBaloch) and writes regularly on his blog www.shezadbaloch.com.
“But in my whole life I have never heard of a stoning in Balochsitan,” he says, “In other parts of the country some incidents have happened, but until now not in Balochistan.”