THAT Pakistani journalists are threatened, intimidated and killed with no consequences for the perpetrators is a shameful indictment of our democracy. Ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report that ranks Pakistan as ninth out of 12 countries where journalists have been killed and the perpetrators are still at large. A list compiled by the Pakistan Press Foundation of murders, attacks and arrests of journalists in 2021 alone, too, is chilling. Meanwhile more than 75 journalists have been killed in the line of duty over two decades; barring a couple, all cases remain unsolved. Both these documents capture the dangerous and stifling environment in which journalists work at great personal risk. They also indicate that press censorship, control and intimidation are worsening.
Why is it that, despite numerous ghastly episodes of journalists’ murders and kidnappings, the perpetrators of these crimes remain at large and unknown? The PTI government — whose members and wings have themselves been criticised for stifling free debate and participating in online trends against journalists — appears to have no interest in getting answers. But it is critical that they be identified, prosecuted and brought to justice. Who is behind these disappearances and attacks? Is it the agencies, who have long been accused of directly or indirectly intimidating the media? Or is it the work of militant groups? Either way, it is the government’s responsibility to protect journalists, hold the perpetrators to account and ensure that justice is served. Unfortunately, there is little enthusiasm or interest within the government to pursue these cases, and as a result, the attacks on journalists continue unabated. The ruling party stops at no opportunity to criticise journalists, question their motives or patriotism and even link them to India. The prime minister himself often either ignores questions about disappearances and attacks or claims that Pakistan’s media is as free as ever. This is nothing short of delusionary. A free press is fundamental to democracy, and the safety of journalists is paramount in this regard. By failing to act, at times failing to even acknowledge that these disappearances and attacks occur, the government is receding into an echo chamber where criticism is seen as a crime. Journalists deserve answers, as they continue to do their incredible work and bring the truth to members of the public. Any delay or failure to find answers bodes badly for Pakistan’s democratic credentials.
Published in Dawn, November 1st, 2021