ISLAMABAD: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its partner in Pakistan, Freedom Network (FN), have expressed concern over reports of media censorship in the country, observing that “censorship and intimidation of media are incompatible with democracy”.
In a joint letter written to caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, the RSF and FN called upon the authorities to allow journalists to cover the election campaigns freely.
The June 25 letter said: “What with threats, abductions, beatings, illegal suspensions and disrupted distribution, media and journalists are being harassed by the military and intelligence services, as well by political actors, in a clear attempt to intimidate them and prevent independent reporting ahead of the elections.”
The letter highlighted a number of cases related to intimidation of journalists, including those of Gul Bukhari and Marvi Sirmed.
The RSF World Press Freedom index for 2018 places Pakistan at 139 out of 180 countries.
“We have been seeing an alarming increase in violation of press freedom and the circulation of news and information in recent months,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, in a statement issued from Paris.
“This interference is absolutely unacceptable in a country that claims to be democratic. We call on Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities to let journalists work freely and inform the public without threats or reprisals. The respect of Pakistan’s leaders for their fellow citizens and the country’s international credibility are both at issue,” he added.
Regarding the case of Marvi Sirmed, the RSF and FN recalled that on June 21 there was a break-in at her house in Islamabad.
Only her laptops, other electronic devices and passport were taken away, suggesting that the aim was to get access to her files and online personal information.
The letter also pointed out the case of Gul Bukhari, a journalist known for her anti-establishment views. She was on her way to participate in a TV programme in Lahore on June 5 when she was abducted and detained for several hours.
A few hours later, and just a few kilometres away, investigative journalist and BOL news anchor Asad Kharal was assaulted by masked men, the letter added.
The letter to the caretaker prime minister referred to a press briefing last month by Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the military spokesperson, in which he accused a number of journalists of circulating “anti-state and anti-military propaganda”.
It further said that a few weeks later, distribution of daily Dawn was disrupted in most parts of the country after it published an interview with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in which he had accused the military of meddling in political affairs.