If Jeremy Paxman worked in Pakistan, he'd be lucky to be alive

High-profile journalists are being shot in Pakistan and the government doesn't seem to care. Some say it's because they're responsible

 

Share

You can judge a society by how well it treats its journalists. This adage often applies to prisoners, but the sentiment is apt - freedom of the press is a key barometer for the wider freedom of a country. And at the moment, this spells bad news for Pakistan.

Between January and March five journalists were killed in the country, although this doesn't include the numerous assassination attempts, kidnappings, and threats reporters have faced.

The picture painted in a new Amnesty International report out today is a bleak one. Journalists are being censored through assassination.

Less than a fortnight ago, a particularly high-profile attempted killing brought the crisis into the spotlight. Hamid Mir is a very popular political talk show host in the country, with an extremely high profile – Pakistan’s Paxman, you could say. He works for the largest private broadcaster in the country, GeoTV.

On 19 April he was shot three times by gunmen in Karachi. The bullets striking his intestines, leg and pelvis. He survived, and has gone on to accuse the feared military spy agency - the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) -  of the attack.

The ISI has denied any involvement, but alarmingly, the government has now made moves to close down GeoTV. The entire episode is a chilling reminder of the ever-present threat of violent censorship that hangs over media enterprises, as well as individual journalists.

Mir is not alone in pointing the finger at the security services. Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty complained of harassment or attack by individuals, they claimed, were connected to the ISI. While some are featured in the report (with their names changed), others couldn't even be included under a false name, because they feared too much for their lives.

From the detailed research in ‘A bullet has been chosen for you’: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan', there emerges a clear pattern of methodical harassment. It begins with threatening phone calls. Then, those who persist with reporting on sensitive national security topics – like alleged links between the military and the Taliban, or security lapses – eventually face harassment, abduction, torture, and even assassination.

This is not some sort of hot-blooded striking out in a fit of passion, but a cold and calculated system of censorship; if journalists won’t shut up, they will be shot up, and put in the morgue.

It’s not only the security services who attack journalists who write what they don’t like. Journalists in Pakistan are caught between a rock and a hard place.

Military groups like the Taliban have killed journalists they think have stepped out of line. One of the darkest ironies is that when a journalist is killed, it can be hard to know whether they were killed by the state, or the state's opponents.

Mir said in a statement yesterday that he had been threatened by "both state and non-state actors" in the run-up to the attempted murder.

Despite the wave of violence and attacks, the Pakistani authorities have singularly failed to hold perpetrators to account. In the overwhelming number of cases researched by Amnesty, the authorities didn't adequately investigate threats or attacks. This adds to the sense that there is no price to pay for dispatching an unwanted journalist.

Saturday is World Press Freedom Day. Hamid Mir will be spending that day in a hospital bed, from which he has vowed to continue his investigations into his suspected attackers. 

That sort of bravery is humbling. It must now be matched by concrete action from the Pakistani government to investigate his attack and the others like it. For once, it is they who should feel the pressure of a deadline.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Secondary supply teachers required in Wisbech

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers ne...

PPA Cover Teachers Required in Doncaster

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Primary PPA Teachers required for wo...

Maths teachers needed for supply work in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fifi Geldof (left) with her sister Pixie at an event in 2013  

Like Fifi Geldof, I know how important it is to speak about depression

Rachael Lloyd
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering