ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Tuesday expressed concerns over the growing climate of fear, violence and censorship that currently underpinned freedom of expression and opinion in the country.

The attack on reporter Asad Ali Toor by unidentified persons and the decision to take anchorperson Hamid Mir off the air represented what had now become an entrenched pattern of unspoken censorship and violent reprisals.

According to a policy brief on the state of press freedom in Pakistan released by HRCP at a presser, it has become clear that anyone challenging the preferred narrative would be punished, a sentiment that was unanimous among the journalists who took part in HRCP’s discussions for this policy brief.

The document argued against the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, misuse of which constantly forced journalists to self-censor, and demanded that Pakistan Electronic Regulatory Authority (Pemra) operated as an independent body, not as a government subsidiary.

It also demanded that mediapersons, especially in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) must be protected by their employers and state institutions.

HRCP said in cases where journalists had been murdered in the line of duty, FIRs must be registered, the culprits brought to justice and the victims’ families compensated.

Journalists who reported from conflict areas such as in Balochistan and parts of KP, must be provided safety and first-aid training, bulletproof jackets where necessary, and life insurance.

Speaking on the occasion, HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani said stereotypical image of girls and women in the media were all about who women were and what their roles in society should be. These stereotypes could be negative, limiting and degrading and impact both how women perceived themselves and how others saw them.

HRCP also demanded that the jurisdiction of the Islamabad-based media tribunal must be expanded to the district level to ensure regular payment of salaries and other dues.

The government must also take proactive steps to track down social media accounts involved in harassing or intimidating journalists, especially women in the profession.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2021

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