UPDATE from CPJ: CPJ calls on Pakistan to act on pledged commitments to press freedom (23 June 2014)
In a wide-ranging meeting on March 19, 2014 with a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to continue to expand Pakistan's media freedoms and address the insecurity plaguing the country's journalists. He also promised to ease visa and travel restrictions on foreign journalists working in the county.
"The important commitments made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to address many of the problems facing journalists and their need for security and other issues indicate that he and his government recognize the importance of a free media in Pakistan," said CPJ board member Kati Marton. "His commitment is encouraging and unprecedented in Pakistan's history."
Sharif's pledge to streamline the investigation and prosecution of attacks on journalists is significant because the record of unsolved crimes has made Pakistan one of the world's most deadly countries for the media. The CPJ delegation presented the prime minister with case histories of 25 journalists killed in the last decade, all but one unprosecuted. In early March, six people were convicted in the 2011 murder of journalist Wali Khan Babar.
In a 45-minute meeting with CPJ, also attended by Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed and Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to the prime minister on foreign affairs, Sharif made a series of commitments:
- Establish a joint government-journalist commission to address continued attacks on journalists and the impunity with which they occur.
- Expedite the prosecution of the killers of journalists by changing trial venues and expanding witness protection programs.
- Include the protection of journalists as a negotiating point in upcoming peace talks with the Taliban.
- Speak out in support of media freedom and in support of journalists under attack, particularly in high-conflict areas like Baluchistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
- Expedite visas for foreign journalists working in the country.
- Review immediately the case of New York Times Bureau Chief Declan Walsh, who was expelled from Pakistan in May 2013.
- Following the meeting with CPJ, the government also announced the creation of special prosecutors in all four provinces and federally to oversee cases involving crimes against journalists.
In addition to Marton, the CPJ delegation included board member Ahmed Rashid, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, and CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Robert Dietz.
In 2013, CPJ released a special report examining the targeted killings of Babar in Karachi, tribal area journalist Mukarram Khan Aatif, and defense and political reporter Saleem Shahzad, along with the underlying culture that has led to so many other killings. In meeting with the CPJ delegation, Prime Minister Sharif pledged to reinvigorate the stalled investigation in the Shahzad killing.