ANOTHER journalist has been murdered in cold blood, this time in Sindh’s Sukkur district, indicating that reporting the truth in Pakistan remains a perilous pursuit. Ajay Laalwani, a reporter for a private TV channel, was reportedly gunned down on Thursday while he was sitting in a barbershop in Salehpat town. Despite the passage of several days since the crime was committed, no one has been arrested in the journalist’s murder. Protests are continuing, however, with media workers demanding justice for Laalwani and calling on the state to provide them security. The journalist community’s apprehensions are genuine, as despite the passage of over a year, the killers of Aziz Memon, a reporter found murdered in February 2020 in Naushahro Feroze, are yet to be convicted, with senior police officials saying he may have been killed due to ‘enmity’. Moreover, it is of deep concern that terrorism cases have been lodged by the state against journalists in Sindh simply for doing their job. Some activists say that up to 50 media persons face terrorism cases in Sindh alone. This flies in the face of the government’s stated ‘respect’ for freedom of the press.
Sadly, journalists face dire threats to their lives and safety all across Pakistan. According to the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, 10 reporters were murdered in the country last year. This is besides the numerous instances of harassment, threats and intimidation from powerful quarters that journalists face. The fact is that when killers of journalists go unpunished, it has a chilling effect on the entire media industry, with the truth and press freedom being major casualties. It is easy for officials to brush murder cases of media workers under the carpet by attributing them to ‘enmity’. But they end up shielding powerful actors who seek to silence the media. The killers of Ajay Laalwani must be brought to justice and the Sindh government must withdraw dubious cases of terrorism against journalists if it is serious about respecting media freedom.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2021