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Crimes, but no punishment: A report on impunity in Pakistan

Pakistani journalists shout slogans to condemn the killing of journalists, Wednesday, 9 September 2015 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Placard on right reads
Pakistani journalists shout slogans to condemn the killing of journalists, Wednesday, 9 September 2015 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Placard on right reads "stop attacks on media."

AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad

This statement was originally published on on 1 November 2015.

A report on the safety of Pakistani media professionals presents a bleak picture of the level of insecurity faced by Pakistani journalists and calls for serious efforts by governments and the media to change the present situation whereby those that kill, injure, abduct and threaten journalists are almost never punished.

The Report on Safety of Media Workers released by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) on the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists documents that since 2001, 47 media workers have been murdered, 164 injured, 88 assaulted, 21 abducted and 40 detained. In addition 24 media professionals died while covering dangerous assignments. There have been convictions in only two cases out of 384 cases of violence against media.

In Pakistan, journalists are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords, as well as by religious groups and political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law. Adding to the gravity of the situation is the fact that the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity from prosecution in Pakistan.

Because of conflicts and insurgencies the number of murders and killings is the highest in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Since 2001, 21 journalists and media workers have been killed in Balochistan, 19 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 9 in FATA and 15 in Sindh, 4 in Punjab and 3 in Islamabad.

Threats and violence have forced many journalists to move from these danger zones and to leave the profession or to resort to self-censorship, particularly in conflict areas. As a consequence, news reports from conflict areas are based on [official] press releases, not on observations by independent journalists. Thus, new reports that are published or broadcast lack credibility and do not inform the public in an objective manner.

The two convictions by courts were in Sindh for the murder of Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal and Wali Babar of Geo Television. In both cases the federal and provincial governments seriously persued the cases because of pressure from the media organisations of the murdered journalists. The report thus recommends that criminal cases (against the perpetrators of violence against the media should not only be registered but should also be properly investigated and prosecuted. The report also calls on the media itself to take the lead in ensuring the safety of media practitioners and to ensure long-term follow up of cases of assault on media organisations and workers.

Apart from murders and killings, the largest number of cases of violence against the media occurred in the province of Sindh. Out of a total of 164 incidents of journalists and media workers injured and assaulted since 2001, 91 occurred in Sindh. Surprisingly the second highest place in these categories with 70 assaults was Islamabad, which was largely due to the assault on a large number of media practitioners by supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during the Dharna in 2014. Forty-eight media practitioners were injured and assaulted in Punjab, 23 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 14 in Balochistan.

This reluctance to hold those who use violence against media professionals responsible for their crimes exists even in high-profile cases such as that of the attempted murder of Hamid Mir in 2014, and the murders of journalists Saleem Shahzad in 2011 and Hayatullah Khan in 2006. In all three cases, high-profile commissions were set up but the result has been nil.

Hamid Mir of Geo Television received six bullet wounds when he was attacked in Karachi in April 2014. The government set up a judicial commission in response to national and international furor over the attack. The commission was supposed to submit a report in 21 days. However, eighteen months have passed and the commission has still not submitted the report. Meanwhile, Mir and other journalists continue to receive threats and face a sense of increasing insecurity. The report calls for the early completion of the commission report which should address responsibility and be made public.

Cases that are not high-profile are covered up at the local level. One such example is that of the fatal shooting of Shan Dahar, reporter of Abb Takk TV channel, on the night of 31 December 2013 in Badh, in Larkana district. He was shot in the back and taken to hospital where he remained unattended until he succumbed to his injuries many hours later on 1 January 2014. The local police, in an investigation that his family believes to be flawed and suspiciously motivated, termed the death as an accidental death as the result of a shooting on New Year's Eve. However, the family believes he was targeted because of his stories on the use of fake medicines in local hospitals. Despite repeated promises, including those by Minister of Information and Broadcasting Pervez Rashid, to have the case re-investigated, no action has been taken by the provincial or federal governments.

The report emphasizes that free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan and for promoting transparency and accountability, a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift; moreover, the impunity enjoyed by those who attack Pakistani media is seriously hampering independent journalism in Pakistan.

The complete report is available in English and in Urdu.

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