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Grieving father booked for ‘misreporting’ dengue case

Grieving father booked for ‘misreporting’ dengue case

CHAKWAL: Fazal Hussein thought that no pain could compare to the anguish of losing a daughter. The 59-year-old is a retired soldier from the village of Dhoda who, two weeks ago, rushed his 28-year-old daughter Atia Noreen to a hospital in the nearby town of Mulhal Mughlan.

When her condition worsened, Hussein took Atia to a hospital in Chakwal, and then to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Jhelum, where she passed away on Sept 28.

The next day, the grieving father received a call from someone identifying himself as a journalist from a TV channel. The caller asked Mr Hussein if his daughter suffered from dengue fever. When Mr Hussein told the journalist he did not know his daughter’s cause of death, the caller asked him to recount the symptoms she had been presenting.

“After hearing the symptoms, the caller said it seemed that my daughter had died of dengue and then put the phone down,” he told Dawn. The next morning, a local newspaper and a number of national dailies carried news items about a young woman who had succumbed to dengue fever in Chakwal.

The story was printed just as the Punjab government was ramping up efforts to control the virus in Rawalpindi and adjoining areas.

When news of a dengue casualty in Chakwal broke, the district administration – on orders from top officials in Lahore – sent a team from the health department to Dhoda village to meet Fazal Hussein. The team examined Atia’s death certificate, which stated that the cause of her death was ‘cardiac arrest caused by sepsis’.

Deputy Health Officer Dr Ikramul Haque then filed an application, accusing Hussain of giving the media false information about his daughter’s death, which had caused a panic in the district. Police then proceeded to register a case against the grieving father under sections 420 (Cheating and Forgery) and 500 (Defamation) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

A police officer visited Mr Hussein in Dhoda on Monday and told him about the case against him. The grieving father was shocked by the allegations.

He told Dawn, “My family and I had my daughter’s death to deal with, we were in grief and pain already. Then, I heard that a case has been registered against me. We were shocked and did not know why this has been done.”

Fazal Hussein said he could not read his daughter’s death certificate, which was in English. He said: “The journalist who called me did not meet me, nor did he ask to see the death certificate. He seemed to be in a hurry.”

A health department official admitted to Dawn the case against Fazal Hussein had been registered in a hurry. He said: “The health department did not want to register the case because we were aware of the situation, but we received orders from on high and had to comply.”

The official said a case should have been registered against the journalist who filed a misleading story without confirming the details.

Dr Ikramul Haque, however, maintained that Fazal Hussein had told reporters his daughter had died of dengue.

He said: “Dengue is a sensitive matter for the government. The case was registered so that people are careful in the future about reporting false information on issues such as this.”

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2015

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