President Asif Ali Zardari in a meeting with delegation of Committee for Protection of Journalists, at Aiwan-e-Sadr on Tuesday. – Online Photo

WASHINGTON: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pledged Tuesday to take action over the killings of journalists, a media rights group said as it voiced alarm at a string of slayings in the country.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said a delegation met in Islamabad with Zardari to mark World Press Freedom Day and gave him a list of 15 slain journalists whose killers have gone unpunished.

“The protection of journalists is in my mandate,” Zardari was quoted as saying in a statement by the group. It said the president asked Interior Minister Rehman Malik for a “detailed follow-up” on the cases.

Much of the world reacted with horror in 2002 when Daniel Pearl, an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal, was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan's largest city Karachi as he reported on religious militants.

Four men including British-born Omar Sheikh were convicted of Pearl's murder. But the Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 15 Pakistani reporters have died since then and none of their killers has been brought to justice.

“Personal experience has shown me that Pakistan is capable of pursuing the killers of reporters,” the committee's chairman Paul Steiger, who was managing editor of The Wall Street Journal during Pearl's murder, said in a statement.

“President Zardari must make it a priority to ensure that Pakistan's probing press is not forced to refrain from sensitive coverage in order to stay alive,” said Steiger, now editor-in-chief of investigative reporting group ProPublica.

Pakistan has a lively media that regularly criticizes politicians, but reporters have faced threats while covering the extremism-related violence that has ravaged the country in recent years. – AFP

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