Sunday June 16, 2024

Constant threat

By Editorial Board
July 03, 2022

In what can only be termed as yet another assault on freedom of expression, senior columnist and political commentator Ayaz Amir was attacked by six unidentified men in Lahore on Friday night as he was leaving a TV channel office after having recorded his show. The men also took his wallet and mobile phone from his car. The attack on Amir comes a day after he spoke at a seminar organised by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association in which Chairman PTI Imran Khan was also present. Ayaz Amir’s speech, which went viral on social media, was critical of certain decisions made by Khan during his tenure.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Chief Minister Punjab Hamza Shehbaz and other leaders have condemned the attack and vowed to nab the culprits but in a country where attacks on Absar Alam and Asad Toor remain unsolved as does the abduction of Matiullah Jan, such ‘vows’ do not inspire much confidence. It was good to see Imran Khan condemn the attack on Ayaz Amir and call it for what it is: fascism. Perhaps the former prime minister will also realize that several journalists were harassed, attacked, arrested and 'picked up', many opposition politicians were arrested without any substantial evidence, and fake FIRs and cases had become a new normal when he was in power. We have over decades seen so many such attacks on dissenting journalists and commentators that the term 'unidentified men' has assumed political significance. From assassinations to assassination attempts, from attacks in broad daylight to arrests to online harassment, journalists have been through a lot in Pakistan.

Pakistan has fallen by 12 places to 157 out of 180 countries according to Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index; Pakistan was ranked 145 in 2021 and former prime minister Imran Khan was at the time declared a 'press freedom predator'. Over the years, successive governments in the country have sought to influence journalism, either by fear or by favour. Anyone who has resisted has had to face the consequences. With a coalition government that says it is committed to a free media, we now need to see concrete action against the perpetrators who attacked Ayaz Amir. In a democracy, the media cannot be expected to toe the line of those in the power corridors; a pliant journalist is a journalist not free to report the truth. Far more needs to be done to ensure that our journalists can work safely, without fear of being attacked merely for doing their job.