Pakistan’s journalists operate in a climate of fear

10 journalists were killed, and 58 were kidnapped, tortured, injured, arrested or detained in Pakistan last year alone

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The Independent Online

The long list of attacked or murdered journalists in Pakistan continues to grow with the latest kidnapping and assault of Karachi Bureau Chief Faheem Siddiqui of TV news channel Geo News in late July. Plain clothes armed policemen pulled over the journalist in what he believed to be a routine security check but instead, they corralled him, beat him and ditched him, hands tied, 40 km away near the Hub Dam on the outskirts of Karachi.

A year earlier, Pakistan’s most popular anchorman, Hamid Mir of Karachi-based Geo TV, was on his way to work when gunmen riddled his car with bullets, six of which lodged into his body. He now drives to and from work in a bulletproof car and refuses to answer his phone unless he knows the caller.

Unidentified assailants on a motorcycle shot dead Karak Times reporter Ayub Khattak outside his home in October 2013, the seventh killed that year according to Pakistan-based media and development watchdog Freedom Network (FN).

Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online Saleem Shahzad’s beaten body was found dumped in a canal on the outskirts of the Punjab village of Mandibaha in May 2011, two days after he filed a report that allegedly linked Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Navy. His case sparked a public outcry and a Judicial Commission that led nowhere.

“The Pakistani authorities must end the impunity for the only too frequent physical attacks on journalists,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge them to carry out proper investigations and to bring those responsible for crimes of violence against journalists to justice.”

Pakistan's dismal ranking on RWB's World Press Freedom Index 2015, which classifies the country as “one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists,” prompted the federal government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to investigate.

Pakistani Minister for Interior and Narcotics Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan introduced the investigation's findings to the National Assembly at the 24th session of Parliament with initial comments on Pakistan's ranking: “This appears to be an exaggeration and based on improper understanding of the situation on ground. The organisation [Reporters Without Borders] has done so without taking into consideration the peculiar circumstances prevailing in the country owing to the ongoing war on terror.”

“The government has reaffirmed its resolve to take all necessary measures to ensure speedy investigation of all cases involving attacks on journalists and media-persons,” Minister Ali Khan told the Parliament. He added: “The government is fully committed to uphold[ing] freedom of expression in the country and the Press and Media enjoy absolute freedom. The government attaches a high degree of importance to freedom and independence of media as a necessary ingredient of a democratic society.”

Minister Ali Khan proceeded to list a number of “preventative measures” taken to secure the safety of journalists including a mobile phone panic alert system that dials into a dedicated helpline where media workers can register complaints with the National Crisis Management. Though the alert system functions primarily in Islamabad, they expect to roll out the system nationwide.

“I am not satisfied with his answer,” Member Parliament Sheikh Salahuddin from Karachi told FN. “There is no press freedom in Pakistan as journalists are dictated to work.”

I contacted RWB for comment on Minister Ali Khan's remarks to the National Assembly but no one was available.

According to research Pakistan's Federal Government released on 2 August 2015, 46 journalists were killed, injured and/or kidnapped in the last five years.

But according to FN's State of the Media in Pakistan Key Findings of 2014 and Challenges in 2015 Report, 10 journalists were killed and 58 journalists were kidnapped, tortured, injured, arrested, detained and/or intimidated in 2014 alone.

Only two cases of slain journalists have led to criminal convictions to date since 2000, according to Committee to Protect Journalists, Pakistan ranks 158 out of 180 on the RWB World Press Freedom Index 2015, and has recorded 64 Pakistani journalists killed due to their to their journalistic activities in the last decade.

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