KARACHI: At least 10 Pakistani journalists were murdered and several others threatened, kidnapped, tortured and arrested on trumped-up charges while discharging their professional responsibilities last year, said a report on media freedom in the country on Sunday.
While the Covid-19 pandemic posed a big challenge to media in Pakistan, where at least nine journalists died of the infection, journalists continued to face extreme pressures with regard to freedom of the press, and of speech, during the year.
According to the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors’ (CPNE) Media Freedom Report 2020, attempts to silence the press continued throughout the year.
It said that according to investigative reports on press freedom, journalists discharged their duties despite increasing restrictions from January to December last amid conspiracies to curtail freedom of expression.
The council’s Media Freedom Report 2020 points out that no action has been taken against those responsible for torturing and killing of journalists
The verbal and physical harassment by senior officials and representatives of the government and registration of fake cases against journalists and their arrests, including that of Jang’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakilur Rehman, painted a grim scenario with regard to freedom of the press and journalists’ protection, the report said.
No action has so far been taken against those responsible for torturing and killing of journalists and it seems that such persons enjoy impunity. “It is a matter of grave concern that the legal system of the country has become useless in protecting and providing justice to journalists,” said the CPNE report.
It noted that media had been given credit for the success of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in the 2018 general elections, but officials of the PTI-led government subsequently created hurdles in the way of a free media.
“It is not the first time government officials (have) tried to impose curbs on freedom of expression, but senior officials talked against the freedom of the press at local and international forums. Prime Minister Imran Khan had told Al Jazeera in September 2020 that his government and ministers were feeling unsafe from the media,” it said.
In 2020, law enforcement agencies targeted journalists and media workers for discharging their duties, the report said, adding that unannounced and hidden censorship got further intensified when journalists were harassed and threatened for expressing their opinion online or on social media websites.
The report said government officials seized books written by senior journalists Muhammad Hanif and Suhail Warraich in Karachi and Lahore. On July 27, Rangers officials violated the sanctity of the Karachi Press Club and conducted a raid.
Several newspapers had to shut their operations last year. The federal information ministry declared over 6,000 publications as “dummy newspapers” and suspended their registration. On June 6, all unregistered publications, printing presses and news organizations were closed down on the orders of the press registrar.
During the year, services of thousands of journalists and media workers were terminated and their majority were facing unprecedented pay cuts and delays in the release of their salaries. Services of over 1,000 employees of Radio Pakistan were terminated without any prior notice.
Two media persons lost their lives because of economic pressures caused by delays in payment of salaries. Cameraman Fayyaz Ali of Capital TV died of a cardiac arrest after he was fired without payment of salary while Maaz Akhtar of Bol News committed suicide on Nov 5 due to non-payment of salary and domestic issues.
Employees of Dawn lodged a strong protest against the newspaper’s management for forcing employees to resign, refusing to implement the eighth wage award and forcibly reducing their salaries drastically.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) on several occasions tried to intimidate and control the media by issuing notices as well as “unnecessary legislation”. It also tried to impose restrictions on social media by introducing rules and regulations for web TV and over-the-top media services.
Many social media companies expressed their concerns over the situation and wanted to leave Pakistan. The information technology ministry formed a committee to review the social media regulations and on Nov 18 it unveiled the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules 2020. An application was filed by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists with the Islamabad High Court, but after implementation of the rules the government got a legal cover to continue with curbs on digital content.
Also in 2020, the Sindh High Court (SHC) acquitted journalist Nasrullah Chaudhry of charges pertaining to possession of prohibited literature and spreading hatred against the state, said the CPNE report.
The SHC set aside the death sentence an antiterrorism court had handed down to principal accused Ahmed Omar Saeed Shaikh in the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, added the report.
During the year, Karachi police claimed to have arrested a suspect said to be involved in the 2011 murder of journalist Wali Khan Babar, that is, after a delay of nine years.