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Global Advocacy Group Urges Pakistan to Protect Press

  • Ayaz Gul

A journalist takes part in a demonstration in front of the Parliament building in Islamabad to protest a spate of killings of journalists, Jan. 28, 2013.
A U.S.-based international press watchdog organization is calling for the incoming Pakistan government led by Nawaz Sharif to take urgent steps to stem “the murderous silencing” of the press by bringing to justice those who have attacked journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists said many reporters killed in Pakistan during the past decade were targeted and murdered.

The Committee to Protect Journalists detailed report titled ‘Pakistan’s Endangered Press’ said since 2003 the country is the fourth-deadliest nation in the world for journalists. It said suicide bombings and other conflict-related circumstances in Pakistan have killed 42 journalists, but at least 23 have been targeted for murder.

The research shows Pakistan has one of the world’s worst records of impunity in anti-press violence, and despite repeated demands from inside and outside the country, not one journalist killing during the past decade has been put to a credible trial.

CPJ Asia program coordinator, Bob Dietz, said “this perfect record of impunity” has fostered an increasingly violent climate for journalists in the country. He said the danger to the otherwise free and robust news media come from not only militants and criminals, but from political groups, the military, and Pakistani intelligence services.

“There has been a significant rise in deaths [of journalists] over the past five years," he said. "Despite the growth that we have seen in Pakistani media, journalists are still facing a lot of interference a lot of intimidation and threats. I mean it has become a way of life for many of them.”

He said the CPJ is demanding newly-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif take urgent actions like strengthening the national criminal justice system to deter violence against journalists.

“It is really incumbent upon this incoming government to make Pakistans justice system work much better than it has," he added. "I know it is a lot to ask and I know there are many reasons that it does not work well. But I think he [Sharif] has to make a priority of doing that and the best way might be at this point to actively take an interest in solving the cases of these murdered journalists over the years.”

Journalists in the line of fire

The CPJ research examined in detail the recent targeted killings of two journalists; Wali Khan Babbar and Mukarram Khan Atif. Babar was gunned down in Karachi while Atif, a tribal reporter working for Voice of America, was murdered near the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The New York-based watchdog disputes Taliban militants’ claim they were behind the tribal journalist’s killing, saying its findings show it could be the work of Pakistani intelligence agents.

CPJ also said a number interviews conducted in Karachi point to the city’s dominant political force, Muttahida Quami Movement, as being behind the killing of Babar, who worked for the country’s leading private GEO TV.

Bob Dietz said fears and threats have prevented progress in investigations.

“And the worst part is that before the trial ever got underway, five of the main witnesses have been killed and no one has been brought to justice for any of those killings either," he said.

Political opponents have also blamed the Muttahida Quami Movement, which represents the predominantly Urdu-speaking community in Karachi, but the party denies the charges as politically motivated.

Pakistani military and civilian officials dismiss allegations agents of the country’s spy agency, the ISI, are behind some of the violence against journalists. They say the charges are part of a campaign to malign Pakistan and undermine its unprecedented sacrifices in the fight against militancy.