Journalist safety

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The murder of journalist Aziz Memon has once again brought to our attention the dangerous conditions in which Pakistani journalists live and work. Aziz Memon had reportedly been receiving life threats for the past many months and had shared his concerns in a video recording that has gone viral. According to reports, he was strangled to death and his body was thrown into a canal in Naushero Feroze. With this incident, the number of journalists killed in Sindh since 2002 has reached 16. The worst part is that absolutely no culprit has been found or punished for these crimes. It is worth recalling that at least 33 journalists have been murdered in Pakistan in just six years since 2013. According to the Freedom Network’s reported data, 131 journalists have been killed in the past 20 years in Pakistan. Just from Nov 2018 to October 2019, seven journalists were killed; none of their families received justice.

If we go into the details, a total of 32 FIRs were registered for the murder of 33 journalists in six years, but the police filed the charge sheet in only 20 cases, that is a dismal ratio of just 60 percent. The prosecution and trial were completed in six cases only, making it less than 20 percent of the total cases in six years. There was a conviction in just one case across Pakistan but that culprit too escaped punishment by successfully overturning the conviction at the appeal stage. The final tally for the past six years, including the latest murder is 34, and the trend of impunity is likely to continue.

Though the recent murder has shifted the focus to Sindh, it is not the most dangerous area in the country for journalists. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa leads in that with 11 murders out of the 33 in six years in the country. Punjab follows with nine and Sindh with seven – and now eight – murders. How do we stem these crimes against journalists? The answer to this question is not easy as both non-state and state actors have been accused of murdering journalists. In many cases, journalists have received threats and communicated these to their friends and authorities. One possible prevention could be to provide security to such journalists; the police too should be more proactive in such cases so that proper investigation and prosecution are conducted with higher conviction rates. Each media house should have its own safety policy including proper safety protocols. And, finally, the government should move ahead with the Journalists Safety Law already drafted by the Ministry of Human Rights with inputs from senior journalists. The law is yet to be tabled. A rapid move to approve and enforce this law is the need of the hour.

The News