ISLAMABAD: The government showed its true colour on the question of press freedom in a recent meeting of Unesco in Paris where it neither produced any report of inquiry into the killings of journalists nor endorsed the UN draft plan on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
Also, the country’s representative in attendance objected to the presence of NGOs working on journalists’ safety, in that important meeting of Unesco. The UN draft action plan, other than taking safety measures and devising inter-agency mechanism for protecting journalists, has proposed demanding of the member-states to pass legislations to prosecute the killers of journalists.
In a rare display of unity, Pakistan and India both opposed the Unesco’s initiative, other than Brazil. In all these three countries, journalists’ murders are rarely investigated. An arm of the United Nations, Unesco, has started looking into the killings of journalists in various parts of the world and plans to evolve a system to arrest this trend.
In the meeting held on March 23-24, the member-states were asked to inform about the status of inquiries conducted to investigate the murders of journalists killed in the period 2006-9, Pakistan being one of them.
Pakistan decided to be among those countries that didn’t produce any report, affirming the indifference of the government, according to the information obtained through Unesco report and further verified by Humaira Zia Mufti, the country’s deputy permanent representative there.
In a telephonic interview with The News, she said the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting was requested in September 2011 to provide the required details but nothing has been passed over to the diplomatic mission. Humaira said filing this report to Unesco is optional, not mandatory, but it doesn’t suit Pakistan standing in the rank of countries hiding such information. “There should be transparency as we recognize the people’s right of free access to information.”
In the prescribed period of 2006-9, as many as twelve journalists were killed with motive confirmed that they were murdered on professional grounds, not personal reasons.
They are: Munir Solangi (May 2006), Hayatullah Khan (June 2006), Mehboob Khan (April 2007), Noor Hakim Khan (June 2007), Javed Khan (July 2007), Muhammad Arif (October 2007), Zubair Mujahid (November 2007), Chishti Mojahid (February 2008), Siraj-ud-Din (February 2008), Mohammad Ibrahim (May 2008), Abdul Aziz Shaheen (August 2008), Abdul Razzak Johra (November 2008), Mohammad Imran (January 2009), Musa Khankhel (February 2009) and Janullah Hashimzada (August 2009). Of this lot, only in Hayatullah Khan case, a judicial commission was set up that deposited its report to the government but never made public. Instead of reporting on the investigations into the killing of above-said journalists, Pakistan representative told the meeting about the judicial inquiry into Saleem Shehzad killing occurred in May 2011, and about the journalist safety fund set up by the government.
Other countries that didn’t report to Unesco about the status of murder investigations included Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Kenya, Venezuela, Congo, Georgia and Turkmenistan etc.
As for the UN draft plan for journalists’ safety is concerned, it was blocked by member states that included India, Brazil, and Pakistan, countries where Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research shows high levels of impunity in journalist murders. Although the IPDC’s (International Programme for the Development of Communications) action was considered a setback, the plan will now be submitted to another UN body for potential endorsement, according to CPJ. According to Jean-Paul Marthoz, a CPJ delegate in attendance of the Unesco meeting, the Pakistani representative objected to Unesco leading this journalist safety plan questioning whether it was within Unesco’s mandate to do so. “They (Pakistan, India and Brazil) also suggested much more time was needed to discuss the draft action plan (it’s been two years in the making, and six months since Unesco staff introduced an early draft of the plan in September 2011).”
Pakistan was the country, Jean-Paul said, which also complained about the presence of NGOs at the IPDC session.
Among its many points, the IPDC draft plan would establish a UN inter-agency mechanism to evaluate journalist’s safety, while strengthening the UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The plan calls for assistance to member states in passing national legislation to prosecute the killers of journalists. It calls for partnerships between the United Nations and press safety organizations along with global awareness campaigns. It also calls for development of emergency response procedures for journalists in the field and provisions for press safety in conflict zones.
After this inconclusive session, UN officials said they would transmit the plan to the Chief Executives Board for Coordination where it could be considered for endorsement, according to a Unesco press release, as the board centralizes operations of all specialized UN bodies.
As The News asked Humaira Mufti’s position on not endorsing the draft that could be a revolutionary step towards the safety of journalists, she said she didn’t oppose the draft but the mandate of Unesco. Humaira said IPDC is a small council, not representing all the member states, and that she stressed on taking up this issue at UN Headquarters, instead of discussing in Paris.