A DARK cloud has been descending over the local media landscape for some time now. In the early hours between Tuesday and Wednesday came the thunderclap journalists have long been dreading. Gul Bukhari, a columnist for The Nation, was abducted on her way to the Waqt TV station in Lahore. Asad Kharal, anchorperson at Bol TV, was also picked up in Lahore shortly afterwards and physically assaulted. In a small mercy, both were released after several hours, but there is no denying the chilling effect of such intimidatory tactics. Coming at the start of what is expected to be a highly contentious election season, such wanton disregard for the law to coerce the press is a dire indicator of the health of this country’s democracy. Never mind one’s politics or affiliations — Dawn makes no distinction — an attack on any journalist is an attack on us all. All media groups ought to unite behind a call to end the culture of impunity for such crimes.
In both cases, the assailants are unknown; will they ever be exposed and held to account? History tells us otherwise. Behind the black ink of journalism in Pakistan lies a palimpsest of a tale told in red. There is a reason Pakistan is one of the few countries to have featured every year on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index since it began tracking unsolved murders 10 years ago. Of the scores of journalists and media workers murdered over the years, in only three cases have the killers ever been convicted. Nor has there ever been any serious investigation into the disappearances of several online activists in early 2017. The police must take a more resolute and proactive stance on investigating and prosecuting crimes against the press and private citizens. While it is commendable that the chief justice of Pakistan has ordered an immediate report from the IGP Punjab on the Kharal case, it is hoped that the Bukhari case does not escape his august notice.
Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2018