Pakistan fails to stem violence against journalists
Media workers are 'effectively under siege' says report
Journalists in Karachi protest following last month's attack on Geo News anchorman Hamid Mir.
Pakistani authorities have almost completely failed to stem human rights abuses committed against media workers or hold accountable those responsible, a prominent international rights monitor said on Wednesday.
Journalists in Pakistan live under the constant threat of killings, harassment and other violence perpetrated by the country’s intelligence services, political parties and armed groups like the Taliban, Baloch insurgents and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), according to the report, published by Amnesty International (AI).
“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting,” David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, said in the report. “The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another.”
The report comes following last month’s shooting of Pakistan’s most famous anchorperson, Hamid Mir, in the port city of Karachi. Mir, who previously survived a bomb scare in 2012, was shot six times but survived the attack. Mir’s employer, Geo News, has blamed Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) for the attack. ISI has dismissed the charge as baseless and misleading.
A month before the attack on Mir, the sectarian extremist group (LeJ) carried out a failed assassination attempt against TV analyst and writer Raza Rumi in Lahore. Rumi escaped with minor injuries, but his driver was killed.
According to Pakistan’s independent Human Rights Commission, 11 journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2013. AI has documented 34 cases of journalists being killed in Pakistan in response to their work since the restoration of democratic rule in 2008, but only in one case have the perpetrators been brought to justice.
Numerous journalists interviewed by AI complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they said were connected to the feared ISI. While some are featured in the report with false names, others could not even be included under pseudonyms due to the potential for backlash.
The spy agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but not a single serving ISI official has ever been held to account, which allows it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law, according to the report.
Journalists are also frequently the victims of rights abuses perpetrated by non-state groups across the country. Aggressive competition for media space in Pakistan means that powerful political actors put severe pressure on journalists for favorable coverage.
In Karachi, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), an anti-Shia Sunni group, and others stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical.
In conflict-ridden regions in the northwest and Balochistan province, the Taliban, LeJ and ethnic Baloch armed groups openly threaten reporters with death and attack them in retaliation for seeking to highlight their abuses or not promoting their ideologies.
“The government has promised to improve the dire situation for journalists, including by establishing a public prosecutor tasked with investigating attacks against journalists. But few concrete steps have been taken,” said Griffiths.
“A critical step will be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. This will send a powerful signal to those who target journalists that they no longer have free reign.”
So far there has been no response from the government to AI’s report, but MQM has denounced it as a “pack of lies”. In a media statement, MQM announced that it would hold a protest on Friday (May2) and seek legal action.
Separately, MQM parliamentarians strongly condemned the report and termed it unfounded, baseless and fabricated. They said that the report was an attempt to discredit and malign MQM.
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