KARACHI: In a joint appeal, members of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and other rights organisations have called upon the government to take concrete action against threats, intimidation and harassment against journalists and to unequivocally condemn attacks on the independent media in Pakistan.
In the letter addressed to President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, the rights organisations expressed concern over recent attacks on the independent media in Pakistan.
On Dec 3, the letter read, a mob of about 50 unidentified people gathered outside the Islamabad office of Dawn, blocking access to the premises for nearly three hours and shouting slogans against the newspaper. The protesters, it added, accused the newspaper of damaging the ‘national interest’ — ostensibly because Dawn had published a report identifying the man responsible for fatally stabbing two people in London on Nov 29, as belonging to Pakistani ethnicity.
The letter drew attention to a larger demonstration held outside the Karachi Press Club on Dec 4 — by a group called the ‘Tehreek-i-Tahafuz Pakistan’ [Movement to Safeguard Pakistan] — which repeated demands for the publisher and the editor of Dawn to be hanged and for the newspaper to be shut down.
It added that on Dec 6, a third protest was held in Islamabad outside the newspaper’s bureau office, with about 100 protesters burning copies of Dawn.
Members of the FIDH said that no other newspaper had been consistently targeted in this manner. They expressed concern about security of Dawn editor, as well as that of other Dawn employees and the journalist community in general.
On Dec 4, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan received information that the Defence Housing Authority had blocked the distribution of Dawn’s copies in Lahore.
“These developments are cause for serious concern. The pressure on the media in Pakistan — and especially on Dawn — is rapidly taking a dangerous turn. We are concerned that the government has tacitly enabled the intimidation and harassment of the media in cases where news reports were deemed ‘against the national interest’,” the letter said.
The rights organisations urged the Pakistani authorities to uphold their constitutional obligations to protect the life and liberty of journalists. “We call on the Pakistani authorities to fulfil their commitment to protecting the independence of the media, and to safeguard the right to freedom of opinion and expression by ensuring that persons or groups responsible for inciting violence against journalists for carrying out their duty are held accountable under the law,” they said.