ISLAMABAD: In Pakistan, killers of journalists operate with full impunity as in 96 percent cases, the criminal justice system has failed to deliver justice for the slain journalists. Sindh has turned out to be the most dangerous place for media professionals followed by Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
This has been revealed in Freedom Network (FN)’s Annual Impunity 2022 report, which has been released ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which is marked on November 2 each year. The FN report has covered the data of a decade in the context of the 10-year anniversary of the 2012 United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Pakistan endorsed this plan in 2013 and later committed to implementing it in the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021.
“This open-ended impunity for crimes against journalists and media in Pakistan is taking an ugliest shape and latest killing of under-threat journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya reminds us how stronger perpetrators of crime and press freedom predators are getting,” Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, reacted to the report findings. The report states that “due to poor investigation, the police fail to produce challans in many cases, killing the chances of justice at an early stage of the legal system” and “due to the poor quality of prosecution, most cases never complete the trial process in the courts”. Khattak said the report’s findings indicate that even though Pakistan legislated exclusively on the safety of journalists at the federal level and in the Sindh province, the Pakistani journalists remain unsafe.
As many as 53 journalists were killed between 2012 and 2012 and the highest number of killing took place in 2014 when 13 journalists were murdered. “Pakistan has not witnessed a single year since 2012 when a journalist was not killed,” the report notes. On average, around five media practitioners lost their lives each year during the period under question. Print media is the worst hit as 31 slain journalists were affiliated with newspapers, 23 with electronic media, four with digital media and two with radio.
Sindh has come under spotlight as the deadliest province with 30 percent of the total fatalities as every third journalist killed from 2012 to 2022 belonged to this province. Punjab has closely followed as 26 percent killing of journalists took place there. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were bracketed third in this notorious ranking with 21 percent killing in each province. Islamabad appears to be a relatively safer in terms of fatal threats although at least one murder was documented from there.
The killers of almost a third of the murdered journalists remain unidentified. Around two-thirds of the journalists were targeted by non-state actors such as militant groups, criminal gangs, local influential and functionaries of political parties. “Militants gangs seem to be most active in Sindh, organised crime in Punjab and unknown attackers in Balochistan,” explains the report. In two cases, both female journalists, they were killed by their husbands allegedly for not agreeing to quit journalism.
In most of the cases, the slain journalists apparently didn’t inform their media employers, press clubs or local authorities about threats if they had received any. Those who shared such threats constitute less than 10 percent. However, the outcome was not different as even the journalists who made life threats public could not succeed in preventing them and were ultimately killed.
As for the role of media organisations or journalist bodies, they never became the first party to the case of their slain workers. In over two-thirds of the cases, bereaved families pursued the cases. The role of the State was not different from the employers as it has never become a party either to the case of any murdered journalist. The FIRs were registered in 50, out of 53, cases. In one case each, the family refused to share the information and register an FIR citing a lack of confidence in the justice system. In a case of a tribal area journalist, the FIR was not registered because there was no police station in a large radius when the murder took place.
Of the 53 murdered journalist, the information on whether the police completed a challan was available in 42 cases. Further research suggested that challan was submitted in only 31 instances. In nine cases, the police failed to generate a final challan before a court of trial. In two cases, the challan was not possible because there was no FIR registered about the murder. Punjab and KP were the worst performing provinces in terms of completing challan whereas Sindh and Balochistan did well on this count.
Of the 31 cases where challans were filed, the court found police investigation adequate enough in 26 cases for trial. Most of such cases were in Sindh and Balochistan. Of the 26 cases declared fit for trial, 54 percent didn’t reach completion to allow for a verdict to be reached. Balochistan performed the worst in terms of prosecution of cases as there is only one case of trial reaching conclusion. Punjab was second worst with only two confirmed cases of trials reaching conclusion. In overall cases, trials were completed in only 12 cases and accused killers were convicted in only two cases. In six cases, the accused were acquitted. In three cases, the families of the victims reach an out of court settlement. In at least one case, a re-trial was ordered by a high court on appeal of an acquittal thereby producing neither a conviction nor any acquittal. The only convictions and punishment of accused came from Balochistan and Sindh but none from Islamabad, KP and Punjab.