ISLAMABAD: A report released on Thursday to mark the World Press Freedom on May 3 has suggested that not only is violence common against Pakistani journalists but that violent incidents happen more commonly in the federal capital than other areas.

The report said that Islamabad, with 34 per cent of all violent attacks in the country, comes out as its most dangerous and riskiest region for journalists.

The Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2019-20, titled “Murders, harassment and assault: The tough wages of journalism in Pakistan”, said that 31 of the 91 cases reported between May last year and April this year were reported in Islamabad, followed by 24 cases in Sindh, 20 in Punjab, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and only three in Balochistan.

The report launched by the Free­d­­om Network — a media rights watchdog — cited 91 violent incidents, including seven murders of journalists and a blogger, and attacks and other offences against media and its practitioners.

Report released to mark World Press Freedom Day

The media personnel killed in the line of duty were Muhammad Bilal (Islamabad), Ali Sher Rajpar and Aziz Memon (Naushero Feroze), Ilyas Warsi (Hyderabad), Mirza Waseem Baig (Gujrat), Zafar Abbas (Vehari) and Urooj Iqbal (Lahore).

The violent incidents are forcing media personnel to exercise self-censorship, as they feel they are being pushed to the wall, said the head of Freedom Network. “The screws on media in Pakistan are being tightened through various means of censorship, including murders, threats, and harassment, resulting in increasing silence and erosion of public-interest journalism,” said Iqbal Khattak.

“The data shows that no place in the four provinces or Islamabad is safe; attacks against journalists are taking place everywhere and that shockingly the state and its functionaries have emerged as the principal threat actor wielding the biggest stick to browbeat the media into submission amid the growing silence,” he added.

The report said that on an average seven cases of violence were reported in a month or one every four days. Besides seven murders, the incidents included two cases of abductions, nine cases of arrests, detentions or confinements, 10 cases of physical assaults, half of which caused severe injuries, one case of attack on the home of a journalist, 23 cases of written or verbal threats, 10 cases of censorship, and eight instances of legal cases registered against journalists.

The top three categories of violence against the journalists included verbal or written threats of murder or other dire consequences, offline and online harassment, and assassination attempts of which seven resulted in killing of journalists.

According to the report, personnel from television emerged as the largest victims of violence with at least 63 cases reported against its practitioners, followed by print media (25) as the second most targeted medium. However, none of the radio journalists was targeted.

The report said that in 42 per cent of the cases, the victims or their families suspected the involvement of various state agencies in them.

The other actors who were perceived as having issued threats were political parties, religious groups or criminal gangs, besides influential individuals.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2020

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