A YEAR-END report by Reporters Without Borders sheds light on the dark reality of working as a journalist in countries where press freedom is constantly under threat. Spanning two decades, the report says 1,668 journalists have been killed across the world. Around 80pc of these deaths have taken place in 15 countries. Tragically, Pakistan is fifth on this list, with 93 journalists killed since 2003. Afghanistan saw 81 deaths of journalists in this period and India had 58, making them sixth and eighth on the list respectively. Nearly 80 journalists have been killed worldwide every year, with 2012 and 2013 being the years where violence peaked, largely due to the war in Syria. It says that reporters face the greatest risk in war zones, which explains why Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Palestine are so prominent on the list. In Europe, Russia has Europe’s highest death toll, and the report notes that press freedom has worsened in the years since Vladimir Putin came to power.
Pakistan’s position on this list is a moment of humiliation for our leaders, and a testament to its weak democracy. It falls in the list of countries where no war is officially taking place, but where the situation is still not safe for reporters. The report notes that more journalists have been killed in “zones at peace” than war zones during the past two decades, “in most cases because they were investigating organised crime and corruption”. In Pakistan, journalists have been killed not only by militants and insurgents but also by unidentified state actors. The common thread in these killings is that truth and justice are elusive, and killers walk free while families look in vain for answers. The recent killing of Arshad Sharif in Kenya under mysterious circumstances only underscores this fact, and points to a chilling reality that Pakistani journalists and dissidents are not safe from threats even outside the country. Not only is this a reason for our authorities to reflect on how badly successive governments have failed to protect journalists, but also the failure of all institutions — the government, law enforcement, the courts — to protect representatives of the fourth pillar of state. Freedom of press has been and still is under grave threat in Pakistan. The government must do more than issue token condemnations and investigation announcements. It must have the courage to name, try and punish perpetrators — or risk being seen as a democracy only in name.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2023