CPJ report asks Nawaz to probe killing of journalists

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ISLAMABAD: A damning report by the New-York-based influential Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused MQM and ISI for harassing and killing journalists and demanded the would-be prime minister Nawaz Sharif re-open murder cases of 23 journalists for bringing culprits to justice.

The CPJ that works for the safety of journalists around the world has also called on the PML-N government to legislate for bringing intelligence agencies under parliamentary oversightas there is no law at the moment governing the functions of the agencies.

“By ensuring the effective prosecution of journalists’ killers and halting the era of anti-press violence, Sharif and his new government will be protecting Pakistani democracy for years to come,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Director Asia.

CPJ’s 51-page report has been released a day after Amnesty International’s annual report documenting serious threats Pakistani journalist are facing from “state security forces, political parties and religious militant groups.”

The ISI and MQM, with their strong-arm tactics, have dominated in the CPJ report. “For journalists, they are among the fiercest Goliaths standing in the way, sometimes physically, sometimes psychologically.” read the report titled: “Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangers Press and the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security and Politics.”

MQM and ISI however denied the accusations leveled against them in CPJ report. Author of the report, Elizabeth Rubin, former New York Times correspondent, has investigated at length the killing of Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar, Voice of America’s reporter Mukarram Khan Atif and Saleem Shehzad.

Between 2003 and 2012, CPJ research shows, 23 journalists were murdered in Pakistan in direct reprisal for their work, making it the fourth deadliest nation in the world for the press, wrote Bob Deitz.

In at least seven murder cases, CPJ found that government, military, or intelligence officials were the likely perpetrators, he noted. “These targeted killings have taken place with perfect impunity: Not a single journalist murder has been successfully prosecuted over the past decade.”

Writing on Wali Khan Babar’s murder in January 2011, the report said that Police arrested several suspects affiliated with the MQM, a leading political party, “but the case has been derailed by threats, intimidation, and murders of key figures in the investigation.” Five witnesses or law enforcement officials connected to the case have been slain, and two prosecutors were fired without explanation, it noted further.

Explaining the threats journalist face from MQM, CPJ report quoted a newspaper editor who said they have to be extra careful publishing anything about them. “They don’t forget these things. We vet every word, every sentence written about the MQM. I am responsible for 150 reporters and I have to be careful if a byline is given on a story,” an editor explained to CPJ requesting not to be named.

Another TV executive said that even the cable operators are pressurised by the MQM to shut down a program that is not liked by the party. Another editor said they feel more threatened from MQM than Taliban. “At least if Taliban threaten you, you can ask authorities for help. With these guys (MQM), No.”

As CPJ also interviewed journalists at Karachi Press Club asking them why the killers of Wali Babar are not arrested. One of them replied: “Everyone points a finger at the MQM, but the prosecutors/judges are also under threat.”

CPJ report also throws light on the complexities of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Mukarram Khan Atif. Although Taliban took responsibility of killing him, Mukarram’s colleagues doubt the claim, the report said.

As Mukarram has covered a deadly US military attack against a Pakistani army post in Salala, he was repeatedly threatened by the military and intelligence officials after his report was aired.

“Several CPJ sources believe government officials were behind the killing. Disclosing links between the military and militants, after all, is a red line that is not to be crossed,” noted the report.

In the report’s chapter on recommendation, CJP has demanded re-opening of 23 murder cases of journalists especially those of Wali Babar and Mukarram Atif. It has also demanded to publicly disclose the findings of all official inquiries into attacks on journalists particularly the one conducted into the murder of Hayatullah Khan who was found murdered in 2006 after covering a sensitive national security matter.

In addition, CPJ has demanded of would-be PM Nawaz Sharif direct the intelligence agencies stop intimidating journalists. In line with the recommendation of Saleem Shehzad Commission report, CPJ has called for setting up the office of ombudsman to address the grievances of media persons regarding threats from state institutions.

CPJ said Nawaz Sharif government must consider the adoption of journalist protection initiative like introducing legislations declaring attacks on journalists as a federal crime. It said Pakistan must cooperate in the creation and implementation of programs promoted through the UN Action Plan on Security of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Source: The News

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