The journalists and media organizations in Pakistan have been working in extremely perilous environment because of the increasing rate of crime against journalists and media professionals. Those enter the field of journalism work on their own risk because they are not provided security in the line of duty. The report focuses on such instances of crimes against media, where journalists are killed, murdered, abducted, assaulted, detained, and threatened by law enforcement agencies, militants, feudal lords, and tribal leaders. Channels, newspaper, social networking sites are blocked and banned. Media personnel’s and media organizations are not only threatened but pressurized by state and non-state actors.
November 2, marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. On this day Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in its report has called on the new government of Pakistan to ensure a safety of journalists working in the line of duty. Journalists work in risky conditions, on the stake of their lives with the aim to inform public and bring facts upfront. Since it is the duty of government and law enforcement agencies to provide security to the journalists. PPF also stresses upon the authorities to investigate cases of violence against journalists and hold those responsible in heinous crimes of killing media professionals.
As per the data collected by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), at least 92 cases of attacks and violations against media in all fours provinces and federal capital, Islamabad were documented. The federal capital of Pakistan, Islamabad emerged as the most dangerous place for journalists with 32 cases of attacks; while 23 cases were recorded nationwide; 12 cases of attacks were documented in Sindh province; 10 cases in Balochistan; eight in Punjab and seven in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The reason behind increasing rate of impunity against journalists in Pakistan is lack of interest by government and law enforcement agencies.
From the period of 2002-2018, 241 journalists and media workers were killed, murdered, assaulted, abducted, detained and arrested throughout Pakistan. See Appendix 1
The PPF investigated six cases of journalists murdered in 2018. However, PPF has determined that the primary causes of murders were personal or business animosities and rivalries rather than their work as journalists. Those murdered during the year included Ehsan Sherpao, Secretary General of Charsadda Press Club; Anjum Muneer Raja, sub-editor, daily Pukaar; Zeeshan Ashraf Butt, reporter, daily Nawa-i-Waqt; Abid Hussain, correspondent of daily Naya Daur, Multan; Saeed Butt, reporter, daily Khabrain; and Muhammad Sohail Khan, reporter, daily K2 Times and AVT channel.
Violence against journalists throughout the year
Journalists in Pakistan are living in a continuous nightmare following the cases of abductions, assault, beating, in most cases reporters and media practitioners are targeted just because of their work. Abducting journalists is a common approach in Pakistan to stop a journalist from expressing their views and write on sensitive issues. A journalist is abducted, threatened to harm their family, silenced and later released. Throughout the year PPF documented the cases of two journalists who were abducted just because of their outspoken and blatant nature of work. While journalist and reporter of France 24, New York Times, Taha Siddiqui escaped attempted abduction in Islamabad on January 10 and because of fear he is currently living in exile in France.
Another contributing writer and columnist of The Nation, Gul Bukhari who is known for her critical views against Pakistani security agencies, was abducted by some unknown persons in Lahore. The journalist was abducted while she was on her way to appear on a TV show on Waqt News channel, the night of June 5, 2018. After few hours of abduction Gul was released and returned home safely in the early morning of June 6.
Balochistan is also considered as one of the dangerous part of Pakistan for practicing journalism, during the 2018 general elections where media was full filing its responsibility to fairly cover the election campaign, but journalists are not allowed to do fair reporting. Zaibdar Marri, President of the Kohlu Press Club and correspondent of the Express News went missing since July 13, 2018. After 12 days abduction the journalist returned home safely. Zaib had been covering the election campaign of Gazain Marri whose brother and opponent, Changez Marri who won in 2013 and reportedly has the backing of the establishment. Local journalists said that Marri received threatening phone calls to stop reporting on and writing about Gazain Marri who returned from self-imposed exile late last year. Zaibdar Marri, however, continued to perform his duties as a journalist and report on the election campaign of Gazain Marri.
The year also witnessed the release of abducted social media activist after one year. Missing social media activist and the head of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan (CPAP) Samar Abbas returned home after a year on March 6, 2018. Abbas went missing under mysterious conditions on January 7, 2017, when several social media activists started disappearing in Pakistan. Activists Waqas Goraya and Asim Saeed vanished from Lahore on January 4, Salman Haider went missing from Islamabad on January 6 while Ahmed Raza Naseer disappeared on January 7 from Sheikhupura, the same year.
Thirty-six cases of physical assault were documented by PPF during 2018 in which journalists were subjected to beatings, physical assaults, manhandling and seizing and damaging their equipment’s.
On the night between 5 and 6 June 2018 Asad Kharal, anchor person of Bol television channel, assaulted by masked persons in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province. He received multiple injuries.
On 7 April 2018, Asad Khan Betini, chief editor of monthly Nawa-e-Qaisa and correspondent of Aaj TV was severely beaten in his office in Zhob Balochistan. Betini was taken to the hospital in the provincial Quetta where he was admitted. According to the journalist, he and his brother were warned by the then provincial agriculture minister Sheikh Jaffar Khan Mandokhail to stop writing critical stories about him.
Law enforcement agencies, supporters of political parties and religious parties, state and non-state actor’s attack journalists while in the line of duty. There is not any safety and security for journalists and media workers.
On November 2017, during the Faizabad Sit-ins in Islamabad, protestors attacked many reporters, photojournalists and cameramen from different media organizations during the coverage of event. Journalists were injured, their equipment’s were damaged, also the Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) vans of two channels were attacked by the supporters of religious parties.
The year also witnessed assault cases of reporters by the supporters of political parties in Pakistan. Two such incidents were recorded where reporters were assaulted and beaten during the coverage of visit and public meeting of political leaders and our politicians were also failed to provide security to the journalists and media workers.
While talking about the law enforcement agencies, PPF also documented cases of assault and manhandling of journalists by deputy commissioner, deputy superintendent of police, security guards, traffic police and police constables. This year noted 11 cases of assault on journalists in the line of duty by law enforcement agencies. Journalists were slapped, beaten, their equipment’s were seized, even they were briefly detained by the powerful officers.
The incidents of doctors and medical staff’s assault on reporters and cameramen were also documented as journalists went for coverage and when asked questions about the conditions of hospitals they were assaulted by the medical staff.
Attack on house of journalists
Attacking the residence of a journalist is also a way to stop him from covering sensitive issues, as a journalist will not do his job at the stake of his family’s life hence they prefer to stay silence and attack on the house of Manzoor Bughio, reporter of Channel 24 is one such example of stopping him from revealing the truth. On August 24, six armed men on three bikes attacked the house of Bughio in Ali Ghulam Bughio, village in Shaheed Benazirabad district, Sindh province. According to the journalist, the attack occurred several days after he had done a story on diesel mafia in Daulatpur, a town in Nawabshah district. He did the story on August 17, 2018. Bughio said, “A goon named Saleem Dahiri first threatened me on the phone and then attacked my house.”
PPF also documented six cases where journalists in Pakistan faces legal actions for expressing their views. Non-bailable arrest warrants, case registration, contempt of court notices, fined under defamation suit were recorded as the common tactics to stop journalists from doing their work.
Such instance is of a renowned journalist and reporter of Dawn Cyril Almeida who was punished just for performing his duty and reveal the truth to the nation through his story. On September 24, Lahore High Court (LHC) issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Almeida and ordered to put his name on Exit Control List (ECL) after he failed to appear before the court for third time in the hearing of treason case. On October 8, LHC ordered removal Almeida’s name from ECL and also withdrew non-bailable arrest warrants issued against him. The petition was filed by Amina Malik, a civil society activist against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, journalist Almeida.
Online harassment is another way of attacking a journalist that is increasing throughout the world. Journalism predators have discovered another way of harassing a journalist, abusing them on social networking sites and calling it their freedom of expression. These aggressive cyber bullying campaigns are carried out by groups of individuals or political groups, just to troll a journalist for reporting the facts. One such instance is noted this year where a prominent Pakistani journalist, columnist and anchorperson Saleem Safi has been the target of abuse and harassment on social media after a comment he made in a TV show on August 19. Safi claimed that during his tenure as prime minister, Nawaz Sharif had borne the expenses of PM house from his own pocket. Social media users especially supporters of ruling party PTI started a campaign against the journalist, trolling him for his claims. Local press clubs and journalist unions condemned and staged protest demonstrations against character assassination of a journalist on social media.
Disruption of circulation and closure of press clubs
On October 13, 2017, banned militant groups in the province, Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), United Baloch Army (UBA) and Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) had published statements accusing newspapers of being part of government’s ‘anti-Baloch’ policies and warned media organizations and journalists of dire consequences if it did not change.
The banned group had set October 24 as the deadline in this regard. The BLF statement specifically criticized and warned three newspapers from Balochistan, daily Aazadi Quetta, daily Tawar and daily Intekhab for not providing coverage to the separatist, and militant groups in Balochistan. The statement added that BLF’s views were endorsed by UBA and the BLA.
After the deadline passed, there were continuous attacks. On October 25, a grenade was hurled at the Hub Press Club. Several passersby were injured in the attack. On October 26, a van carrying newspapers was ordered to stop by armed men in Awaran. They fired at the van’s tires and burnt the newspapers. On the same day in Turbat, the Pak News Agency was attacked when an explosive was hurled at its office. Eight people including passersby were injured.
On October 30, an employee of local daily Qudrat was assaulted and newspapers burned by unknown assailants in Quetta. On November 1, threats were issued to several press clubs in the province to suspend their activities, which resulted in closure of several press clubs.
Dalbandin Press Club was closed on the same day after threats, Panjgur Press Club was closed on November 2. After continued threats, Lasbela, Utal, Kharan and Sarawan press clubs were closed down on November 3 and Khuzdar press club was closed down on November 7. On January 19, BLF withdraws media boycott which it announced in October 2017 leading to closure of several press clubs and attacks on few press clubs and newspaper distribution offices in the province.
Distribution of Dawn newspaper has been disrupted in many parts of the country. In Balochistan province the distributors were told not to distribute the newspaper because earlier in May 2018, the newspaper published an interview with former premier Nawaz Sharif in which he made a controversial statement. Whereas the circulation of newspaper has also been disrupted in parts of Sindh and Punjab provinces.
PPF also documented verbal threats throughout the year. Journalists received calls, threatening them to stop covering sensitive matters, else they will face serious consequences. Hassan Tariq, crime reporter of Dawn news channel Peshawar Bureau; Ismail Domki, former president of Nawabshah Union of Journalists and district correspondent of Express News and Daily Express, Nawabshah; Saeed Mazari, correspondent of Channel 24 in Rojhan town in Rajanpur district of Punjab province; Anwar Anjum, correspondent of Aaj News, Mingora, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are those journalists who received threatening calls.
Censorship of television channels and online media
Pakistani government, law enforcement agencies and media regulatory body all are on the same page to control media content accordingly and if media bodies fail to comply they are served with show cause notices, warnings or newspaper circulation disrupted, channels got banned. PPF documented 31 cases of censorship. Banning TV channels, social media pages, disrupting circulation of newspapers, barring media from coverage, issuing show cause notices to channels have become common trends in Pakistan to censor media.
On November 25, 2017, Government of Pakistan suspended all national private news channels, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Daily Motion across the country for over 24 hours, to prevent coverage of police crackdown against protestors in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. A number of journalists were also injured while covering the protests. The media blackout triggered a spate of speculations and left people without information on what was happening in major cities across the Pakistan.
The transmission of Geo TV channel went off-air in various parts of Punjab from April 1 and it continues to be disrupted in many areas of Pakistan. Television programmes in Pakistan are distributed by cable operators, and there are allegations that they are pressured by political groups and law enforcement agencies to disrupt and suspend transmission of programs as a means to punish channels. Disrupting the broadcasts of Geo Television started after the channel broadcast unproven allegation that intelligence agencies were responsible for the near fatal attack on its news Anchor Hamid Mir on April 19, 2014.
The circulation of newspapers belonging to the Jang-Geo group were disrupted as were broadcasts by Geo television channels, particularly Geo News, the news and current affairs channel. PEMRA issued instructions to cable operators to restore Geo to normal distribution, or face suspension of their licenses.
The government of Pakistan on January 19, 2018 shut down the Pakistan operations of the Pushto-language radio channel of US Government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. The notification issued by the Ministry of Interior said Radio Mashaal was ‘found against the interests of Pakistan and in line with a hostile intelligence agency’s agenda’. Furthermore, PPF documented several other cases of censorships which includes show-cause notices, warnings to channels and anchors; media and journalists barred from coverage on different instances.
Convictions in journalists killing, erratic in Pakistan
120 journalists and media workers have been killed in Pakistan since 2002 and according to the findings and verification by PPF, 72 journalists were killed because of their journalistic work but out of these 72 killed journalist’s only killers of five journalists were found guilty.
Following are the five high profile cases in which conviction was made and culprits were sentenced to death and life imprisonment.
Wali Khan Babar, reporter of Geo News who was shot dead on 11 January, 2011 in Karachi; Ayub Khan Khattak, reporter of daily Karak Times who was murdered on October 11, 2013; Nisar Ahmed Solangi, reporter of daily Khabroon murdered on June 17, 2007 in Pir jo Goth, Sindh; Abdul Razzaq Jaura, reporter of Royal TV news channel, was murdered on November 3, 2008; Daniel Pearl, correspondent of The Wall Street Journal was abducted from Karachi on January 23, 2002 while investigating a story on the Taliban. He was beheaded and his kidnappers made a video of the murder which was released on February 21, 2002.
Blood Money Effect and crimes against journalists
One of the important reason for increasing rate of crimes against journalists is blood money and settlement with families. The perpetrators use money and power to pressure victims’ family.
Fighting impunity has been difficult in Pakistan because of the concept of blood money in controversial settlements between families of victims and suspects and families are under pressure to accept the compensation. There are also such cases of blood money effect found in Pakistan. Mujeeb ur Rehman Siddiqui, senior reporter of daily Pakistan was killed on September 17, 2010 in KPK province, in a Jirga meeting the victim’s family pardoned them who helped killers. Similarly in Sajid Tanoli’s case his family pardoned the accused two years later. Tanoli, reporter of daily Shumal was murdered on January 29, 2004. Later Tanoli’s brother revealed that accused paid 2.5 million rupees to the family in blood money.
Ameer Bux Brohi, reporter of daily Kawish, was shot dead on October 3, 2003 in Sindh province. In spite of his case reaching trial in an Anti-Terrorism Court in Jacobabad city, the family pardoned the accused in 2015 in return for monetary compensation. Another example was of Shahid Soomro, reporter of same media organization who was murdered on October 20, 2002, his brother revealed that the family had reached a settlement with suspect who paid them PKR1.6 million. These are just a few of the cases in which blood money made it possible for the killers of journalists go without punishment.
In such conditions it is risky to continue the field of journalism and for journalists it is dangerous to dig out the facts and inform the public. Hence the new government should introduce new policies to provide security to journalists and reduce the threats and crimes against journalists and media professionals. The only way to tackle impunity is to end the practice of blood money and thoroughly investigate the cases and punish those responsible.
The reason behind journalist’s preference of staying silent is lack of trust on authorities and law enforcement agencies as they fail to provide security and this is also one of the main reason behind increasing rate of violence against journalists as culprits are not punished, because the authorities are not interested in pursuing legal cases of violence against journalists. Although PPF has suggested that special prosecutors on violence against media be appointed at the federal and provincial levels to investigate and prosecute those who are found guilty of committing any form of violence against media personnel and organizations.
The media’s ability to do its job is, however, threatened by individuals, lobbies and organizations that either overtly or covertly perpetrate, support or endorse violence against journalists and even obscure the pursuit of justice when crimes take place. Journalists and media organizations in Balochistan came under threat with separate incidents of attacks on media organizations.
Appendix 1: Table cataloging number of journalists targeted in different regions
Appendix 2: cataloging number of journalists killed in different media organizations
Appendix 3: Chart cataloging categories of violence against journalists throughout the year