Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) condemns multiple incidents targeting journalists and media professionals in the lead-up to the general elections on February 8. Journalists are an essential part of the democratic electoral process and must be able to report on key developments regarding the elections without facing consequences.
PPF draws attention to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Code of Conduct for National Media, which states: “The government and law enforcement agencies shall provide due protection to media persons and media houses to maintain their freedom of expression as their fundamental right.”
The ECP Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Contesting Candidates, and Election Agents states that political parties will “firmly restrain” their workers from exerting influence on the media or resorting to violence against them.
The incidents in the critical period in the lead-up to the election, including violence, harassment, and online censorship, threaten the safety of the media and raise concerns about the media safety as the election approaches and also violate the ECP codes of conduct for the elections. This hampers journalists’ ability to fulfill their pivotal role in documenting and reporting on the electoral process accurately and impartially.
It is essential to highlight that the government is ultimately responsible for ensuring the freedom and safety of the media, as enshrined in the Constitution and the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021. We urge the authorities to uphold these constitutional obligations and protect the rights of journalists and the media.
Assault during coverage
On January 25, PNN reporter Noroz Rana was assaulted by supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) political party during a rally in Vehari, Punjab.
Rana told PPF that he was interviewing attendees for their opinions while covering the rally in Vehari. Some younger participants expressed support for another party, Pakistan Tehreek Insaf, prompting Rana to ask them why they were attending a PML-N event. This led to a confrontation when a PML-N supporter accused Rana of trying to discredit the rally and incite violence against him. Two individuals, purportedly supporters of the party, verbally assaulted Rana, slapped him, and destroyed his camera. They also attacked him with his microphone, targeting his eye.
Rana noted that the incident occurred towards the rally’s conclusion when many reporters had left. He reported the incident to his organization and filed a complaint with the Vehari District Police Officer (DPO).
Adnan Tariq, the Public Relations Officer to the DPO, told PPF that officers are currently preoccupied with election duties, the DPO is aware of Rana’s situation and will take appropriate action following the elections.
In another incident, on January 30, at a political gathering in Lahore, the Talon News team, including reporter Hanooq, driver Hammad, and cameraperson Farooq, faced violence at the hands of PML-N supporters.
During the rally, some individuals attempted to climb onto PML-N leader Hamza Shehbaz’s vehicle. When Shehbaz’s security personnel intervened, pushing them away, the individuals fell to the ground. Nearby, the Talon News team was covering the event when they accidentally collided with some supporters, leading to a tense situation. Agitated by the encounter, those PML-N supporters launched an attack on the news team, slapping them and damaging their equipment.
On January 26, Naya Daur correspondent Moammar Qazzafi and his cameraman Moazzam Bukhari were assaulted by supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a candidate of the party, Ch. Adnan Sarwar Gorsi.
The attack occurred while the Naya Daur reporters were covering Gorsi’s constituency PP-157 in Lahore. Due to disagreements during the coverage, PPP supporters allegedly physically assaulted Bukhari and damaged his camera.
Bukhari told PPF that he and his reporter, Qazzafi, visited the location for coverage and allegedly observed several unusual activities. Bukhari said that women were queuing to collect forms, which gave off an impression of pre-poll rigging despite the official claim that these were forms for the Benazir Income Support Program. When Qazzafi inquired about the purpose of their gathering, the staff on-site abruptly accused them of harassing the women and initiated a physical altercation against Bukhari. The confrontation resulted in Bukhari sustaining injuries near his head and eyes, and their camera was also damaged.
Following the incident, Bukhari filed a complaint at the local police station in the factory area, but the matter was eventually settled.
Digital Harassment of Journalists
GTV anchorperson Gharidah Farooqi became the target of online harassment allegedly by supporters of the PTI political party. In a tweet, Farooqi said that persons associated with PTI run campaigns against her every 10-15 days, and another such campaign had been launched against her. Farooqi said she had lodged a complaint with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) condemned the campaign in which the house address and phone number of Farooqi had been shared on social media, and she had faced character assassination and life threats. In a statement, PFUJ President Afzal Butt and General Secretary Arshad Ansari demanded PTI leadership take disciplinary action against party workers involved. They said that the PTI leadership would be responsible if Farooqi faced any personal or financial damage.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) also condemned the harassment experienced by Farooqi.
The website for the out-of-favor political party, PTI, were blocked. According to Dawn, PTI had launched an online portal for election information and a backup site. The top court of Pakistan had ruled against the party and upheld the withdrawal of its election symbol, the bat.
Since then, access to the websites has been restored.
PPF calls for an immediate end to all acts of violence, harassment, and online censorship targeting journalists and media professionals. With the elections a couple of days away, we urge the government to ensure a safe and conducive environment for media coverage of the elections in physical and digital spaces. Upholding the principles of democracy and freedom of expression is vital for a fair and transparent electoral process.