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Pakistani journalists under siege: Amnesty International

Updated April 30, 2014

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Journalists killed in Pakistan in response to their work March 2008-April 2014
Journalists killed in Pakistan in response to their work March 2008-April 2014

Journalists in Pakistan are constantly living under death threats, harassment and other forms of violence being carried out by intelligence agencies, political parties and militants groups, said a report by Amnesty International (AI).

The report titled 'A bullet has been chosen for you': Attacks on journalists in Pakistan, describes in detail numerous incidents in which journalists have been harassed, intimidated, tortured and in many cases murdered.

It says that Pakistani authorities “have almost completely failed to stem human rights abuses against media workers or to bring those responsible to account”.

The report, which was released today, said that since the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in 2008, there have been 34 documented cases in which journalists were killed due to their reporting.

“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,” an AI press release quotes Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director David Griffiths.

“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,” said Griffiths.

“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,” said Griffiths.

The report has been made after extensive research had been carried out into over 70 cases and interviews conducted with more than 100 media workers in Pakistan.

“Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty International 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,” the AI press release said.

“Journalists are also victims of human rights abuses by non-state groups across the country. Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political actors across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favourable coverage, the report further said.

The report highlights that non-state actors, in particular political and religious parties, “stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical”.

The AI report breaks down cases of violence against journalists in all the provinces with particular emphasis on Balochistan along with Pakistan's largest city Karachi.

“The Pakistani authorities have largely failed to hold perpetrators to account. In the overwhelming number of cases researched by Amnesty International, authorities rarely adequately investigated threats or attacks or brought those responsible to justice,” the press release said.

“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 reign,” said AI.