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March 19, 2014

Media Group Presses Pakistan to Protect Journalists

by Ayaz Gul

An international media watchdog says Pakistan's government has pledged to improve security for journalists and include the issue in upcoming peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.  

A delegation of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists met Wednesday with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to press him to address what the group says is his “country’s long-standing record of impunity in journalist murders.”

Delegation leader Katie Marton says the Pakistani leader made “significant and strong pledges” to take immediate steps to address the insecurity plaguing the country’s journalists and bring to justice those responsible for violence against the press.

“He is going to appoint a special prosecutor and four regional special prosecutors to deal specifically with the issues of threats and crimes against journalists," Marton said. "He is going to expedite the long-stalled murder cases against the journalists that we have documented, and we gave him a document listing all the unsolved murder cases in the last decade.  And he is going to put in place security measures for judges and witnesses.”

She said of the 25 journalists killed in Pakistan in the past decade only one case has been prosecuted, blaming the unresolved cases for rising violence against the media. Marton underscored the need for providing a secure environment.

“The media are highly active and vibrant and there are no free speech issues here, unlike in many other countries," she said. "However, there is also insecurity and violence in Pakistan and reporters are targeted merely for doing their job.”

After the meeting, Sharif's office said in a statement a "media commission" is being set up to create measures to protect journalists and suggest ways and means to effectively monitor prosecution of crimes against the press.

Most of the violence against journalists has taken place in Pakistan’s northwestern districts close to tribal areas which are strongholds of foreign and local militants.  The Sharif government recently initiated a peace process with the Pakistani Taliban waging a bloody insurgency against the state.

Marton said her delegation urged the prime minister to ensure protection of journalists while he pursues a dialogue with militant groups.

“He pledged in his upcoming talks with the Taliban to make press rights and the press security issue a priority on his agenda."

The Committee to Protect Journalists and other media watchdogs say threats to journalists in Pakistan are no longer confined to northwestern regions.

They say reporters face persistent threats in major cities, including Islamabad and Karachi, where leading political parties are also blamed for carrying out anti-press violence.