THAT journalist Nafees Naeem’s abduction was a brief one does not dilute the gravity of the crime committed against him. The senior assignment editor of Aaj TV channel was reportedly picked up on Monday afternoon near his Karachi residence by men in plainclothes travelling in a Vigo, a pattern repeated in so many cases of enforced disappearance that it has become a trope. Mr Naeem thankfully returned home safely in the early hours of Tuesday. Relief at this denouement should be accompanied by anger that he and his family had to suffer the ordeal at all and that journalists have once again been conveyed a sinister warning about how easily their fundamental rights can be violated — presumably if they do not ‘toe the line’.

When it took up the reins of power, the PML-N-led coalition announced it was shutting down any nascent attempts made by the ousted PTI government to establish a single media regulatory body under a draconian law. Imran Khan’s government was perhaps the most hostile to press freedom of all civilian set-ups in the country’s history: journalists were harassed, physically attacked and disappeared, while several lost their jobs because pressure was applied on the media houses that employed them to cut them loose. Even when video evidence was available aplenty, such as in the cases of Matiullah Jan and Asad Ali Toor in Islamabad, no action was taken to even identify the perpetrators, let alone prosecute them. The findings in the Freedom Network’s latest annual report indicate that the state and its functionaries rank as the “biggest threat actor” targeting media in Pakistan. Another significant finding by the independent media and civil liberties watchdog is that the nation’s capital is “the riskiest and most dangerous place to practise journalism”. The coalition government must ensure that journalists can do their work not having to look over their shoulder constantly. There is also the media protection law, ironically brought in by the PTI dispensation. Mr Naeem’s abduction presents an ideal opportunity to start implementing it.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022

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