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Concern over Pakistani journalist's safety as police withdraw protection; another journalist attacked

The following statements were originally published on ifj.org on 11 December 2014.

Police withdraw protection to senior journalists' leader despite threats

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses its serious concerns over the safety of the senior leader of the IFJ affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in Lahore, Pakistan after the Punjab Police decided to withdraw police protection amid new threats to his life.

Rana M. Azeem, the Lahore-based PFUJ president, has received threats from unknown people after Punjab Police withdrew security they were providing him following similar threats in September. The PFUJ believes that the withdrawal of the police protection to Azeem is a result of a protest against the Punjab Police for arresting journalists affiliated with ARY TV while they were carrying out a sting operation.

Following the new threats, Azeem said: "Now I hereby announce that the government of Pakistan and Punjab police will be responsible for any mishap [that may befall me] in the future. Because we could not reduce our daily activities to safeguard the rights of the journalists."

Azeem has remained a target for long time. In September, unidentified people fired shots at his home repeatedly with an intention to intimidate him. He was also threatened in January, in connection to his work and activities with the PFUJ for protecting journalists' rights and advocating safety.

The IFJ and the PFUJ urges the government of Pakistan and the Punjab Police to remain vigilant against attacks on journalists, take all threats seriously, and restore the police protection provided to Azeem.

The IFJ Asia Pacific deputy director, Jane Worthington, said: "The threat is yet another attempt to intimidate the senior leadership of PFUJ which has been on the forefront in condemning attacks by both state and non-state parties on journalists and working hard to improve the overall safety situation for journalists."

The IFJ added: "It's concerning that the Punjab Police has decided to withdraw the protection provided to the PFUJ senior leader, particularly at the time when he is being threatened. The IFJ calls on the Punjab Police to work with the PFUJ and create a dialogue on the issue of journalist safety and press freedom in the province."

Female journalist attacked covering political protests in Pakistan

The IIFJ is concerned by the growing number of attacks against female journalists in Pakistan in recent months. On December 8, a female journalist was attacked covering a political rally in Faisalabad, in Punjab, Pakistan, the third attack on a female journalist since August this year.

Geo News anchor, Maria Memon, was attacked as she covered the political rally of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of former cricketer Imran Khan. During the rally, clashes broke out between PTI supporters and those of the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim league (Nawaz) (PML-N). At first Memon was verbally assaulted, however the attack escalated when she and her producer were hit by a bottle of water, followed by a number of empty bottles. Memon was then attacked with sticks as she sat atop of a Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) van.

Memon said about the attack: "I don't know why they focused on us as there was no provocation on our part. And as usual while covering rallies, I had taken great care of what I was wearing as not to offend anyone. Remembering the incidents that colleagues have faced, we had parked in a relatively safe spot aware from the crowd near the clock tower in Faisalabad."

Memon was forced to end her reporting prematurely due to safety concerns.

"I am shaken for now but no serious damage done. I will go back into the field. Such incidents will not make women stay at home in fear. It is part of the job," said Maria Memon.

This is not the first incident of attacks against female journalists. In August and September this year, during extensive political protests across Pakistan, Farhat Jawad and Amna Amir from Geo News were attacked by PTI workers in Islamabad. Jawad had to take refuge in a DSNG van of another channel as political workers tried to attack her. They broadcasted her name and station, encouraging others to also attack her. Luckily, Jawad managed to escape physically unharmed. Amir however was wrangled by political workers to stop her reporting of the event. When she refused she received a number of death threats.

The IFJ Asia Pacific office said: "Female journalists continue to face a number of obstacles and attacks like these further discourage their involvement in the media industry. Since August, media workers across Pakistan have been subjected to attacks as they cover political protests, being attacked for simply doing their jobs."

The IFJ calls on the Pakistan government, authorities and political parties to support the media and immediately investigate these attacks that weaken Pakistan's media industry.

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