Pakistan has failed to combat rising impunity for crimes against journalists despite legislation for their safety, according to Freedom Network’s Annual Impunity 2023 report released on Sunday.

The report titled “One step forward, two steps back — Pakistan legislates on the safety of journalists, but still fails to protect them” was launched ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which falls on November 2.

“Since the promulgation of safety laws for journalists first by the Sindh government and then the federal government in late 2021, Pakistan continues to record an alarming increase in persecution of journalists, especially by government authorities and state agencies, including kidnapping, physical assaults and serious legal cases against them including on unproven charges of sedition, treason and electronic crimes, in the two-year post-legislation period,” it said.

“The Sindh Assembly passed the ‘Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act-2021’ while the National Assembly passed ‘Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act-2021’ in the span of few months,” it recalled.

According to the report, Pakistan was failing to use the important legal instruments to combat rising impunity for crimes against journalists despite passing laws in this regard for two years.

It highlighted that at least 37.5pc violations — 93 out of total 248 cases in period between August 2021-August 2023 — were recorded in Islamabad alone.

Sindh was the second worst region in Pakistan with 22.5pc of the violations (56 cases), the report said, adding that it was ironic that most attacks against journalists were reported from regions that legislated for their safety.

The report further highlighted that 11 journalists were also killed or lost lives in line of duty during the same period.

“Pakistan was ranked 157 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s World Press Freedom Index in 2021 before the laws were passed,” it said, adding that the country had improved its media freedom rank to 150 due to the two laws in 2023.

“It is very disturbing to see the good work of the two legislatures diluted by not making the laws fully operational to provide protection to journalists,” Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, reacted to the report’s findings.

“Both the federal and Sindh governments are responsible for effectively dysfunctionalising their own laws and therefore delaying and effectively denying justice to journalists,” he said.

Failure of governments

The report went on to say that the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act was passed by the National Assembly during PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s tenure.

“In these two years, both the Khan and Sharif governments failed to establish a safety commission mandated by the law which meant that in effect the federal law remained non-operationalised and hence failed to help a single of the 93 journalists in Islamabad that were killed, attacked, injured, threatened or harassed in the two years since its enactment. The two governments also failed to enforce the law,” it said.

Highlighting that a similar situation prevailed in Sindh, the report said: “The Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act was passed in June 2021 by the provincial assembly and notified officially in August 2021.

“But the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners (CPJMP), proposed by the law, was only notified one year late in December 2022 with respected jurist Rasheed A Razvi appointed its first chairperson.”

It added that the Sindh government failed to provide either an office, staff or formal budget for the commissions’ operations until Aug 2023.

“Thereby procedurally hampering its operations and severely restricting the commission’s ability to provide protection, relief, and justice for the growing number of violations against journalists and media entities in Sindh province,” the report noted.

It stated that the Commission Chairperson Razvi used to come to the aid of several journalists in Sindh “who were either kidnapped or attacked by issuing notices to the provincial authorities, including law enforcement agencies, to either recover or safeguard the journalists”.

“His orders were complied, indicating that if resourced properly, the commission can help reduce impunity of crimes against journalists and media in Sindh,” it added.

Recommendations

The report also made three recommendations for the country to benefit from these laws. These include “urgent formation of a safety commission under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, appropriate and adequate resourcing, including budget, office, and staff for Sindh’s commission, and an enactment of similar journalists’ safety laws by Balochistan, KP, and Punjab after legislative assemblies are elected in these provinces” following the 2024 provincial elections.

“Pakistan has a golden opportunity to become one of the strongest global performers in combating impunity for crimes against journalists with presence now on its statute books of the two specialist journalists’ safety legislations,” the report said. “But for this promise to materialise, these three recommendations must be implemented on priority.”

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