By: Owais Aslam Ali, IPI Executive Board Member
Murderers of journalists enjoy impunity in Pakistan
48 journalists killed in Pakistan for their work in last 10 years
By: Owais Aslam Ali, IPI Executive Board Member
VIENNA, Nov 21, 2012 - At least 48 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in the last 10 years, and 35 of them were deliberately targeted and murdered because of their work. In 2012 alone, five journalists were killed in the country, according to IPI's Death Watch. For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence.
Pakistani journalists are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords, as well as some political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law. Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity in Pakistan.
According to figures complies by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), of the 48 journalists killed in the line of duty during the past 11 years, 14 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 from Balochistan, nine from Sindh, eight from the Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies (FATA), three from Punjab and two from the federal capital, Islamabad.
Of the 35 journalists murdered since the year 2002 because of their work, 11 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 10 from Balochistan, four from FATA, seven from Sindh, two from Punjab and one from Islamabad. Of 48 journalists killed, 25 were shot, three targeted in suicide attacks, seven killed in suicide bomb blasts, nine abducted before being murdered, while four were killed in crossfire.
While formal criminal complaints (First Information Reports) were lodged, the murders of media workers were not seriously investigated or prosecuted. Over the last 10 years, the murder of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the US-based Wall Street Journal, was the lone case of a murder of a journalist in Pakistan in which suspects were prosecuted and convicted. This is why Pakistan is on the list of shame prepared by the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) of those countries that do not investigate and prosecute murders of journalists.
Because of the Afghanistan war and the so called war on terror, areas bordering Afghanistan - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA – are the most dangerous areas for journalists.
Journalists in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan work under extremely stressful conditions with pressure being wielded by security agencies, militant groups, district administrations and tribal leaders. In many instances security agencies or militant organisations require journalists to get ‘clearance’ from them before releasing their new reports. Journalists from Balochistan, in particular, face violence and threats from security and intelligence agencies, as well as, ethnic, sectarian and separatist groups.
Pakistani journalists are often caught between competing power centers. For example, recently the Balochistan High Court directed journalists not to report news of banned organisations. Meanwhile, such banned organisations exert pressure on local media to give them ‘proper’ coverage.
The alarming increase in violence and threats has forced many journalists to migrate from these danger zones. According to some estimates, one-third of FATA journalists has already moved to other areas or given up the profession.
Pressure and intimidation has forced journalists to adopt self-censorship, particularly in conflict areas. Because of this self-censorship, the reports emanating from the conflict areas about military action by Pakistani law enforcement agencies, drone attacks by US forces or attacks by militants are based on press releases and not on observations by independent journalists. Thus, not only are human dimensions or horrors of the war being fought in Pakistan absent from the media, but reports that are published or broadcast also lack credibility. This has hindered the development of consensus on the path Pakistan should take to steer the country out of the crisis facing it for last three decades.
Free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan as it promotes transparency and accountability, a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift. The impunity enjoyed by those who attack journalists is seriously hampering press freedom in Pakistan and all stakeholders, including media organisations, the government and civil society should join hands to devise mechanisms for ensuring the safety of working journalists.
Owais Aslam Ali is a member of IPI's Executive Board and Chairman of Pakistan Press International (PPI).