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Friday February 23, 2024

End the impunity

By Editorial Board
November 02, 2021

We have a lot to be sombre about this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. Pakistan is often described as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists and most of those killed are reporters who struggle to make ends meet and work in the most dangerous parts of the country. Unfortunately, successive governments have shown little interest in providing them security. According to the IFJ, 138 journalists in Pakistan have been killed since 1990. In very few cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice or held responsible for their acts. This is a dangerous situation. Freedom Network, another local watchdog group, has also noted that journalists are given less and less space in which to operate; 56 percent of the two dozen or so journalists who have come under the attention of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) have faced harassment or threats of one kind or the other, and in some cases encountered criminal charges. There have been increasing concerns about journalists being subjected to harassment online. Last year, a joint statement by women journalists in the country had spoken of the vicious attacks they face online. The most recent case of the manner in which journalists are attacked and subjected to hostile abuse was seen in the attacks on Asma Shirazi. This is becoming a regular problem.

There are other accounts which crop up regularly of reporters and social media bloggers being ‘picked up’. In none of these cases has there been any effort to ensure that those responsible for these acts are either identified or brought to face the law of the land. The impunity is virtually unrestrained. The situation has grown markedly worse over the past few years, with consistent use of repressive measures by non-state and state actors constraining the working environment for media professionals in the country.

There is a need to remind the government that the treatment meted out to journalists directly reflects the state of democracy and freedom of expression in any country, and that the constitution of Pakistan grants the right of free expression to every citizen of the country, including journalists. It is time these laws were indeed respected and impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists brought to an end. Until the government starts respecting the role the media plays in such trying circumstances, journalists will continue to pay the ultimate price for doing their jobs. We reiterate: a society where journalists continue to be silenced with impunity is a society that is afraid of asking critical questions. Pakistan must reaffirm its commitment to the safety of journalists by solving the unresolved crimes against journalists in the country.