KARACHI: As the world prepares to observe the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on Nov 2 (today), Pakistan faces a stark reminder of its own challenges in protecting media professionals.

On Aug 13, Jan Muhammad Mahar was shot dead soon after leaving his office at the Kawish Television Network (KTN) in Sukkur where he was the bureau chief. Less than a week earlier, another journalist, Ghulam Asghar Khand, was shot at least nine times while on his way home in Khairpur.

Both incidents were follow­­ed by vociferous protests in their respective areas, besides rece­i­ving prominent coverage in the mainstream media. In Mahar’s case, two joint investigation teams were also formed to investigate the brazen killing.

Within a few hours, however, investigators ruled in both cases that the murders were carried out over personal enmity and had nothing to do with journalism.

Before long, the protests too petered out and the two joint investigation teams (JITs) that were formed over Mahar’s murder failed to even convene.

Who is behind murders?

According to one senior journalist, media professionals, particularly in small towns, are sometimes targeted because of the prestige and influence that comes with the profession. Other times, they are targeted simply because of their work.

In the cases of Mahar and Khand, the majority of local journalists and even police officials are convinced that someone wanted them dead and hired hitmen to do the deed. In other cases, the motive is much clearer, but the investigation gets murky.

This is a pattern that has been oft-repeated in Pakistan. It seems to be the case in the high-profile murder of journalist Arshad Sharif last year, even though it took place in Kenya.

Then there was investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, whose body was found a day after his disappearance from Islamabad in May 2011. There has been little to no headway into either of the cases.

The case of Zubair Mujahid, who was murdered 16 years ago in Mirpurkhas in drastically different circumstances, ended in a similar manner but because of vastly different reasons.

The protests that erupted over his murder quickly turned into a whimper, the police mishandled the evidence and conducted a mock investigation — they never had a suspect or a person of interest, and didn’t investigate the threats made against him.

A two-year investigation by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Free Press Unlimited (FPU) into Mujahid’s case revealed that Mujahid’s reporting focu­sed on police and he had been threatened by a police officer as well. This compromised the investigation as the police were among the suspects.

Perpetrators never caught

For the last 16 years, Pakistan has had the ignominy of being placed on the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index. It ranks countries by the number of cases of murdered journalists and the progress — or lack thereof — in their prosecution. This year, 12 countries were included in this list with Pakistan ranked 11th.

Such cases repeat year after year. Even though fewer in number as compared to the time when Pakistan was among the frontline states in the war on terrorism, the rate of impunity in such cases remains extremely high.

The index examines journalists’ murders that occurred over the last decade — from Sept 1, 2013, to Aug 31, 2023 — for which no convictions were obtained.

The motives behind the murder of eight journalists in Pakistan were not ascertained and none of the accused were punished in these incidents. As per CPJ, the list includes only those cases of murder in which the killers enjoy full legal impunity.

Over the last 30 years, at least 97 journalists have been killed in Pakistan for carrying out their journalistic duties and in only two cases have the killers been partially convicted.

This problem seems to be prevalent particularly in Sindh. According to the Freedom Network, 53 journalists were killed in Pakistan between 2012 to 2022. The highest incidence of these murders, 16 or roughly 30 per cent, occurred in Sindh.

It is to remedy this situation that a few like-minded journalists and jurists have come together to constitute the ‘Pakistan Task Force on Jour­nalist Murders’, which can critically monitor the investigative and prosecution process while maintaining pressure on the authorities by keeping the issue in the public eye.

In doing so, it hopes to be able to bring justice to the victims’ families and end the culture of impunity for crimes against journalists in Pakistan.

A full version of this article can be accessed at Dawn.com

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

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