By: Sumaira Jajja
KARACHI: “Before we ask for ending impunity for those who attack journalists, we must unmask those who attack us,” said Wusatullah Khan, a senior journalist, while sharing his thoughts on the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Violence against Journalists’ on Friday.
“Everyone knows who killed these journalists in Pakistan but to no avail as we are all cowards and choose to remain silent,” the broadcaster said.
“Some 25 years ago, we read small news items stating that some district reporter was beaten up by men and his facial hair and head were shaved. We stayed quiet then, assuming it could be the result of personal enmity. Then came the newspaper burnings, again silent as ‘our newspaper wasn’t being burnt’. Then there were the threatening notes sent to journalists but ‘it isn’t me’ so silence again. This was only to be followed by kidnappings and murders. Who gave the attackers all these opportunities? Who stepped back?” he questioned.
“The silence back then (by the journalists’ community) is costing us now,” he summed up aptly, adding: “When there is no accountability at the first step, this is what you end up with.”
Mr Khan was speaking at an event, organised by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) at Karachi Press Club, to show support for journalists who have been targeted due to their right for freedom of expression.
The day is also marked to show solidarity with the victims of Nov 23, 2009 Maguindano massacre in the Philippines, which remains the deadliest attack on journalists to date. “In Karachi alone, over a 100 people have been killed within a month. Not just one month but many months over the years where this was the death toll, at its highest crossing over 300. In this situation, 48 journalists killed during the past decade in Pakistan might seem insignificant and the sad part is the killers in any of these cases (civilians or journalists) have never been apprehended,” he said, highlighting the grim situation faced by the common man and media persons.
While stressing repeatedly that the media owners need to take responsibility of journalists and not use them for financial gains, he said that the system was so politicised that all those who were arrested eventually were bailed out and this cycle continued.
“The greater the role of media is becoming, be it in Pakistan or other countries, the worse the violence against journalists,” noted PPF chairman Owais Aslam Ali.
“There is data on the number of journalists killed in the line of duty but there are countless reporters, photographers, cameramen who have been beaten up while covering rallies and harassed for filing stories. They have been forced to flee, at times to go into exile but there has never been accountability,” he said.
Some of the fifteen recommendations given by the PPF on the occasion are as follows: Criminal cases should be registered, investigated and prosecuted against the perpetrators of violence against the media. An independent commission comprising professional media organisations, civil society organisations, press freedom and human rights organisations and professional bodies of lawyers should be established for monitoring criminal investigations and legal follow-up of cases of violence and intimidation of journalists. Journalists should be provided with safety and first aid trainings and guidance on how to report in hostile environment as well as safety equipments. Employers should provide journalists life and medical insurance and also compensation in case of death or injury related to their work.
Six journalists killed this year
According to the figures shared by Committee to Protect Journalists, 950 have been killed all over the world since 1992, with 585 being killed ‘with complete impunity’. The situation in Pakistan is equally dismal. CJP notes that 46 journalists (including reporters, cameramen, and photographers) have been killed in Pakistan since 1992 due to their work.
According to the data compiled by PPF, 48 journalists have been killed in the line of duty between 2002 and 2012, starting from Daniel Pearl. Another 35 journalists were killed due to their work all over Pakistan while three media workers, including a two drivers and press club worker have become victims of violence between 2009 and 2012. This year alone, of the six journalists killed so far, four incidents were reported in Balochistan.
It must be noted that journalists killed in Pakistan since 2002, ones covering conflict (war on terror) as well as politics in Pakistan have been targeted the most, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (14) and Balochistan (12) having the highest number of casualties. Most of these journalists were working as stringers for local and foreign media organisations and were paid for every story they filed.
However, one thing that is common in all these cases is that not even one case reached its conclusion where punishment was handed down to the killers.