ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and Freedom Network (FN) have expressed concerns over court directives to indict journalists in a case related to the affidavit of former Chief Judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim.
In a joint statement issued on Monday, the PFUJ, PBC, HRCP and FN stated that journalists should not be punished for merely performing their professional duties.
“Media reports of court directives to indict senior journalists has created concerns among the national communities of journalists, lawyers and rights activists, and their representative associations, who believe that this may create a precedent that may potentially lead to greater persecution of media by other predators of Freedom of Expression,” the joint statement said.
“It is the considered opinion of PFUJ, the apex body of journalists in Pakistan, that reporter Ansar Abbasi merely performed his professional duties when filing a report related to the affidavit that is in public interest,” the statement said, adding that this PFUJ stance has been articulated in the Islamabad High Court before its honourable judges, in its role of amicus curiae of the court.
The stance – that public has a right to know and that verifiable information through professional journalism is the cornerstone of professional media, which the reporter in question and his editors performed on this benchmark – has already been endorsed by PBC, HRCP, FN and the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), it said. This stance has also been supported by international freedom watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists and International Federation of Journalists.
“We, along with all these stakeholders of media freedoms, feel that the potentials risks of indictment of journalists for their professional work will further exacerbate the difficulties of enforcement of fundamental rights to Freedom of Expression and right to information and potentially harm media freedoms in the country,” the statement added.
Given these grave risks, all the four prominent bodies said, the honourable court should show leniency by dropping all charges against the journalists as any formal indictment will have far-reaching adverse consequences for the freedom of press and freedom of speech in the country.
“Legal precedents matter a lot in Pakistan’s legal system. The framing of charges against journalists and a possible conviction could set a bad precedent, encouraging anti-press elements and the enemies of democratic forces to exploit such a precedent to muzzle the media in the country which is already recognised in the world as one of the worst countries for media freedoms and journalism practitioners,” the statement said.
“Indictment could also deter media persons from carrying out public interest journalism and investigative reporting, thus depriving people of their right to know, including reporting about the need to strengthen the judiciary’s independence,” it said.
“In recent years the Islamabad High Court and its honourable judges have performed their functions admirably and judiciously handled all cases of public interest in enforcement of fundamental rights. We hope the court will similarly adjudicate this case and shield media and its practitioners against anti-democratic forces and prevent any erosion of Freedom of Expression and Right to Information guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution,” the joint PFUJ-BC-HRCP-FN statement added.