The new government of Pakistan today faced urgent calls to address the country’s appalling record of violence against the press.
A total of 23 journalists were murdered in the past decade, with not a single conviction, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a major new report on the troubled country.
The Independent’s Voices in Danger campaign highlighted the plight of Pakistani journalists earlier this week in an interview with Umar Cheema, a local journalist who was driven off the road, taken to an anonymous building and subject to a brutal ordeal of torture and rape. He was explicitly told that the attack was due to his journalism and was ordered to stop his reporting. He refused, despite fears for his safety and that of his family.
The CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator Bob Dietz said: “Government, military and intelligence officials are suspected of involvement in at least seven journalist murders in the past decade. The newly elected government led by Nawaz Sharif has an opportunity to stem the murderous silencing of the Press by implementing security mechanisms for the media and delivering justice in these killings.”The report, also accompanied by a video, alleges a web of manipulation, intimidation, retribution and impunity that has led military officals, intelligence agents and criminal elements of political parties to threaten and attack journalists without fear of punishment.
It cites the cases of journalists like Wali Khan Babar in Karachi, who was shot on a busy street in 2001. While the police did launch an investigation and arrested suspects affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement political party, the investigation seems to have collapsed after five witnesses and other key figures in the probe were murdered.
The report also highlights the case of Mukarram Khan Aatif who was killed at a mosque north of Peshawar last January, just weeks after covering a US military attack on a Pakistani army post. Nearby, it was alleged, the Taliban had been operating freely – right next to the Pakistani Army.
The report makes detailed recommendations to the Sharif government on how to improve the situation but previous administrations have failed to stand up to the powerful ISI intelligence organisation, the army and criminal political elements, the CPJ claimed.