Pakistan: Media under siege - New report

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists protest the shooting of Hamid Mir
Members of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists protest the shooting of Hamid Mir, Islamabad 23 April 2014 © Aamir Qureshi
  • Five journalists killed so far this year

  • Attempted assassination of Hamid Mir in last fortnight chilling reminder of ever-present threat of violence

Journalists in Pakistan are under siege, living with the constant threat of violence from all sides, including from the security services and the Taliban, Amnesty International said in a new report published today.

Report: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan

The 66-page report accuses the Pakistani authorities of failing to stem human rights abuses against media workers or to bring those responsible to account.

Five journalists have been killed so far this year, with 34 documented cases of journalists being killed in response to their work since the restoration of democratic rule in 2008. In only one instance was the perpetrator brought to justice.

David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, said:

“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting.

“The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another.

“The government has promised to improve the dire situation for journalists, including by establishing a public prosecutor tasked with investigating attacks against journalists. But few concrete steps have been taken.

“A critical step will be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. This will send a powerful signal to those who target journalists that they no longer have free rein.

“Without these urgent steps, Pakistan’s media could be intimidated into silence. The climate of fear has already had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the broader struggle to expose human rights abuses across Pakistan.”

Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they claimed were connected to the feared military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While some are featured in the report with names changed, others could not be included even under a false name because they feared for their lives.

From the detailed research in A bullet has been chosen for you’: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan, there emerges a clear pattern of methodical harassment, beginning with threatening phone calls. Those who persist with reporting on sensitive national security topics – like alleged links between the military and the Taliban, or security lapses – eventually face harassment, abduction, torture and even assassination.

Journalists are also targeted by other organisations.

Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political groups across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favourable coverage. In Karachi, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) religious group and others stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical.

In conflict-ridden regions in the northwest and Balochistan province, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and ethnic Baloch armed groups openly threaten reporters with death and attack them in retaliation for seeking to highlight their abuses or for not promoting their ideology. Journalists in Pakistan’s heartland of the Punjab have also faced threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked groups.

Despite the wave of violence and attacks, the Pakistani authorities have largely failed to hold perpetrators to account. In the overwhelming number of cases researched by Amnesty the authorities did not adequately investigate threats or attacks.

Only in a handful of high-profile cases have more thorough investigations been carried out, and only after public outrage has made it impossible for the authorities not to act.

The assassination attempt on Hamid Mir on 19 April, a popular news anchor with the largest private broadcaster GeoTV, has led to a tense showdown between the outlet and the military. GeoTV accused the ISI of being behind Mir’s shooting, the ISI has denied any involvement, and the government in turn has made moves to close down GeoTV. The events serve as a chilling reminder of the ever-present threat of censorship that hangs over media enterprises as well as individual journalists.

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Attacks on journalists in Pakistan