Taskforce formed to monitor investigation into journalists’ murders in Pakistan

Published June 14, 2024
The image shows journalists Amber Rahim Shamsi (L), Hamid Mir, Lynne O’Donnell and Adil Jawad at a panel discussion at IBA, Karachi on Friday. — Photo by Muzhira Amin
The image shows journalists Amber Rahim Shamsi (L), Hamid Mir, Lynne O’Donnell and Adil Jawad at a panel discussion at IBA, Karachi on Friday. — Photo by Muzhira Amin

On May 3, Maulana Muhammad Siddique Mengal, the president of the Khuzdar Press Club, was killed in a bomb blast. The murder coincided with World Press Freedom Day, a day dedicated to the importance of journalism and freedom of speech, according to the United Nations.

Pakistan reports three to four murders of journalists each year, as per the 2024 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters With Borders. In fact, this year the country dropped two places to rank 152 out of 180 on the index, highlighting the threats under which journalists in Pakistan work.

As television anchor Hamid Mir put it, “Pakistan’s biggest tragedy is the journalist who is not ready to leave their profession despite all the threats and problems they face.”

In a step to protect these journalists, the Free Press Unlimited — an international press freedom organisation headquartered in the Netherlands — has helped establish a collective comprising journalists, lawyers and members of the civil society, with the aim to critically monitor the investigative and prosecution process while maintaining pressure on the authorities by keeping the issue in the public eye.

The announcement was made at a panel discussion titled ‘Media and Democracy: An Essential Partnership’ on Friday. It was organised by the Centre of Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi, and included journalists Hamid Mir, Adil Jawad and Lynne O’Donnell with Amber Rahim Shamsi moderating.

Speaking at the session, Jawad, who is a member of the core committee of the task force, stated that the increasing use of social media, which has now become the “voice of the people”, particularly in remote parts of the country, was increasingly making digital and social media journalists vulnerable.

He cited the killings of Mengal and Nasrullah Gadani — a journalist who was shot dead near the town of Mirpur Mathelo last month — and highlighted how justice had not yet been served to them. Such is the culture of impunity for journalists’ killers in Pakistan.

Jawad pointed out some reasons behind this failure; unwillingness or incapability of the police, lack of forensics and pressure on grieving families.

“We have therefore created a roster of experts such as government officials, lawyers and reporters to solve these problems,” the journalist said, adding that efforts were also underway to create a mechanism for collaboration with the police and law enforcement agencies.

At the outset of the session, the panellists pointed out how journalism, as an institution, was under threat due to various reasons such as the political manipulation of information.

“It is dying in an agonising way in front of our eyes,” said Lynne, a foreign correspondent who has worked with various international media organisations. “Our integrity as journalists and the veracity of our work are persistently and consistently undermined.”

“We are drowning in a rising sea of words, photos, videos, blogs, vlogs, podcasts, social media, misinformation, disinformation, artificial intelligence, and propaganda,” she added.

Anchorperson Mir, on the other hand, was optimistic about the future of the field, citing the release of poet Ahmed Farhad and journalist Imran Riaz earlier today as a “ray of hope”.

He further stated that democracy in Pakistan was directly linked to free media while the latter could not survive without an independent judiciary. Mir emphasised the need to stay true to journalism and the people, whom he termed as “our main source of strength”.

“People often call me an activist even when I am just doing my job … they are not used to journalists doing their jobs,” he said, calling for the journalism community to stand together in times of adversity.

Meanwhile, Lynne said: “Our challenge is to redefine our purpose for a brave new world that needs journalism — meaningful, informative, trustworthy journalism that holds power to account without fear or favour — more than ever.”

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