The third report presented by the Independent High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on media freedom has urged Commonwealth governments to ensure journalists at risk are provided safe refuge and can apply for refugee status from within their home countries. The 121-page report also recommends that if Interpol issues a Red Notice for a particular individual seeking his or her extradition, there should be an inquiry to ensure there is no victimization against a journalist who has been given refugee status overseas.
The situation for journalists around the world has been worsening over the years, in particular in countries where populist right-wing governments are in control. According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, last year 389 journalists were detained. The Committee to Protect Journalists points out that in 2018 as many as 65 journalists went missing, with this number having doubled in a decade. The new report says that between 2010 and 2015 over 450 journalists were forced into exile under the threat of imprisonment or violence.
Forty governments have joined the coalition and signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, including six countries from the Commonwealth. The new report makes a number of recommendations aimed at making journalists safer. This includes the introduction of an emergency visa for journalists at risk and their immediate families and the issuing of travel documents to the relocated journalists if their papers have been cancelled by their home countries. It also advises that states should recognize journalists at risk as refugees under the terms of the International Refugee Convention.
Pakistan's journalists are seen to be at greater and greater risk for the work they do, amidst crippling censorship and state high-handedness. We have continuous reports of journalists who have gone missing or have faced various kinds of harassment. At least six journalists have been killed in the line of duty during the last decade. This situation has led the CPJ and other bodies to declare Pakistan a dangerous country for journalists. There has also been international concern over the continued harassment they face. Just recently, we saw the 200-days detention of the Editor-in-Chief of the Jang-Geo Group, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. This is only one of many cases. Other journalists have reported serious harassment and threats. In this situation, the call to the Commonwealth to help save journalists appears to be timely. Certainly they require greater protection if they are to fulfil their professional duties as editors, reporters, photographers or in other capacities. In the meanwhile, Pakistani journalists, like their counterparts in other countries, have no alternative but to do what they do best: trust their pen.
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