Pak journalists under ‘serious threat’: Amnesty

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LONDON: Journalists in Pakistan are under “serious threat” from state security forces, some political parties and religious militant groups, Amnesty International has said.

At the launch of its 2013 annual report at its London headquarters here, the human rights organisation’s Secretary General Shalil Shetty gave example of senior GEO TV and Jang Group journalist Hamid Mir, who escaped an assassination attempt in November when a bomb under his car failed to detonate. Quoting the annual report, Shetty said that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attempt.

The AI report says that several journalists claimed to have been threatened for reporting on the military, political parties or armed groups, but the authorities failed to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Speaking to The News, AI’s Pakistan researcher Mustafa Qadri said that his organisation has received credible reports of threats to and attacks on journalists because of their coverage of the elections and alleged vote-rigging by some political parties. “Pakistan has a very poor record in protecting journalists from attacks and as far as we’re aware no one has been prosecuted for killing a journalist since the case of Daniel Pearl in 2002. Failure to address these attacks sends a signal that the perpetrators—be they political parties or other groups – can literally get away with murder. It obviously has a profound impact on freedom of expression in Pakistan because the media plays a critical role in informing the people and keeping the powerful accountable.

Unfortunately, some members of political parties feel they have a licence to use violence to influence the media. Threats to and attacks on journalists are a human rights abuse without any justification,” said Mustafa, without naming a political party, but it’s widely known which parties in Pakistan use violence and threats to media and political opponents.

He said that the people of Pakistan showed tremendous courage by coming out to vote in record numbers and braving the risk of attacks by the Taliban and other armed groups but these elections were not free of violence and rigging in many areas of the country, where in some cases whole polling stations were taken over by goons affiliated with political parties.

He said that it was unfortunate that members of the Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who faced the brunt of attacks by the Taliban attacks, have also been implicated in attacks on journalists, agreements seeking to prevent women from voting in some electorates, or incitement against supporters of other political parties. “As elected representatives of the people of Pakistan, politicians have a responsibility to demonstrate respect for human rights and the rule of law. Any individual or group implicated in abuses must immediately be investigated by the authorities, and, where admissible, evidence is available, alleged perpetrators of these abuses must be brought to justice in fair trials regardless of their rank, status or party affiliations,” he demanded.

The report says that religious minorities suffered persecution and attacks in 2012, with targeted killings by armed groups and religious leaders inciting violence against them. “The Armed Forces and armed groups continued to perpetrate abuses in the tribal areas and Balochistan province, including enforced disappearances, abductions, torture and unlawful killings. The courts successfully compelled the authorities to bring a handful of victims of enforced disappearance before them, but failed to bring perpetrators to justice in fair trials.”

The report lauded that in a landmark decision on September23, the Supreme Court ruled that members of the transgender community are entitled to the same rights under the Pakistan Constitution as other citizens.

The report alleges that the “security forces continued to act with impunity and were accused of widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, deaths in custody and extrajudicial executions targeting political activists, journalists, and suspected members of armed groups”.

The report appreciates that the Supreme Court took bold initiatives on the issue of “victims of enforced disappearances” but “reports of enforced disappearances continued across the country, especially in Balochistan province and the north-west tribal areas”.

The report says that the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Balochistan Liberation Army and other armed groups such as the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) targeted security forces and civilians, including members of religious minorities, aid workers, activists and journalists. They carried out indiscriminate attacks using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs, said the report adding that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had openly claimed responsibility for the killing of Shia Muslims in many incidents.

The report notes that “Ahmadis, Hindus and Christians remained at serious risk of violence and intimidation on the basis of their religious beliefs. “There were at least 79 attacks on Shia Muslims – the most for any religious group in the country. Religious minorities were disproportionately represented in incidents where private individuals sought to invoke Pakistan’s vaguely formulated blasphemy laws.”

Source: The News

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