While International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists was observed on Nov 2, so far no law has been enacted at federal and provincial level in line with the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Through a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on Dec 18, 2013, it was decided to observe Nov 2 every year as International day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

The said resolution urged member states to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy and effective investigations into all alleged violence against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction and to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.

The resolution also called upon member states to promote enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference, including means of legislative measures.

The UN Plan of Action was endorsed by the UN Chief Executive Board on April 12, 2012. Subsequently, Unesco and UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) started a consultation process on way to strengthen the Plan of Action in March 2017. A consultation outcome document about how to strengthen the implementation of the UN Plan of Action was released on Aug 16, 2017.

The said document also called upon the member states to ensure safety of journalists through gender-sensitive laws, policies and practices aimed at their protection, accountability for violations against them, and enable related aspects such as securing confidentiality of journalistic sources, and respecting journalist’ freedom of movement.

While the international day is observed in the country every year the offences against journalists continue with impunity. No law has been enacted by the federal and provincial governments for ensuring journalists’ safety and in cases of violence against media persons the law enforcing agencies have to depend on the existing penal of laws including Pakistan Penal Code.

Only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa including former Fata (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) at least 35 journalists have been killed in last over a decade. These journalists were killed in the line of duty during different acts of terrorism, especially suicide bombings by terrorists.

The rise in militancy during the previous decade also resulted in increased incidents of violence against journalists.

In Feb 2007, two journalists named Amir Nawab, correspondent of an English daily, and Allah Noor Wazir of AVT Khyber were killed when the vehicles in which they were travelling along with other journalists was ambushed by unidentified gunmen near Wana Hospital in South Waziristan.

They had gone to cover signing of a peace agreement between militant leader Baitullah Mehsud and security forces. Despite passage of over 14 years their killers could not be traced.

Their killing was followed by gruesome murder of Hayatullah Khan, a correspondent with daily The Nation, by unknown kidnappers on June 13, 2006, after remaining in captivity for six months. He was kidnapped from Mirali in North Waziristan on Dec 5, 2005, under mysterious circumstances. He had reported an airstrike by the US killing an Arab militant, which was contrary to the claim made by security agencies that the said militants had died in an explosion.

A judicial inquiry was conducted into his kidnapping and subsequent death by a judge of Peshawar High Court, Justice Mohammad Raza Khan, but the report has not seen the light of the day. Despite repeated demands by media rights organisations, the said inquiry report has not been made public by successive governments.

Another case in the conflict area was the death of Mohammad Ibraheem of Express TV, who was killed by unidentified assailants in Bajaur on May 22, 2008. Some of the witnesses had claimed that five gunmen sprayed Mohammad Ibrahim with bullets near Inayat Kali while he was going to his village from Mamond tehsil on a motorcycle.

In Swat, a known journalist Musa Khankhel, who as working with Geo TV, was killed by unknown persons on Feb 18, 2009, when he was covering events related to signing of a peace deal between the government and Maulana Sufi Mohammad led Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariah-i-Muhammadi. He had gone missing and the same day his bullets-riddled body was found.

Two other journalists belonging to erstwhile Fata, Nasrullah Khan of daily Mashriq, and Mukaram Khan Atif of a news channel, were killed on May 10, 2011, and Jan 17, 2012 respectively. The former, belonging to Khyber Agency, was killed when an explosive device ripped through his vehicle at Khyber Super Market on Bara Road.

Mukaram Khan, hailing from Mohmand Agency, was shot dead inside a mosque at Shabqadar town in Charsadda. A spokesman of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan contacted some media persons and accepted responsibility of his killing.

Keeping in view the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of crimes against journalists, some media rights civil society groups held several consultations to prepare draft of a proposed law to check impunity of crimes against media persons. These organisations included Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) and Freedom Network. The draft was finalised in 2017.

The said draft proposes establishment of a National Journalists Safety Council with wide-ranging functions including: introducing and implementing mechanisms for protection through temporary or permanent relocation, anonymity by changing name and identity of under-threat journalist; issuance of direction to media houses and employers on occupational safety and health of journalists; develop and implement threat monitoring; create a national journalists safety fund to assist journalists under attack including sexual or psychological harassment; extend financial help to families of slain journalists, etc.

The proposed law also envisages appointment of special prosecutor for overseeing investigation of cases of crimes against journalists; ensuring timely collection of forensic and testimonial evidence, direct registration of cases, etc.

Legal experts believe that the federal and provincial government should enact exclusive laws for journalists’ safety for fulfilling their international commitments as well as constitutional responsibility towards freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press. They believe that as majority of the cases of targeted killing of journalists remained untraced, it was necessary for the government to adopt appropriate measures in this regard at the earliest.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2019