Pakistan fails to combat impunity of crimes against journalists- Report

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Two years after Pakistan became the first country in the world to specifically legislate on safety of journalists, the state is still failing to use this important legal instrument to combat rising impunity of crimes against journalists, reveals an annual report on the state of impunity against media practitioners in Pakistan, issued here on Sunday.

Since the promulgation of safety laws for journalists first by the Sindh government and then the federal government in late 2021, Pakistan continues to record an alarming increase in persecution of journalists, especially by government authorities and state agencies, including kidnapping, physical assaults and serious legal cases against them including on unproven charges of sedition, treason and electronic crimes, in the two-year post-legislation period, according to Freedom Network annual report marking the International Day to End Impunity falling on November 02.

Pakistan made history in 2021 passing two special laws to protect journalists. The Sindh Assembly passed the “Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Act-2021” while the National Assembly passed “Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act-2021” in space of few months. Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have not passed a similar law for their jurisdictions.

According to the Freedom Network report titled “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Pakistan Legislates on Safety of Jorunalists, But Still Fails to Protect Them,” at least 37.5 per cent of the violations in Pakistan – 93 out of total 248 cases in period between August 2021-August 2023 – were recorded in Islamabad alone. Sindh was the second worst region in Pakistan with 22.5% of the violations (56 cases), the report said, adding that it is ironic that most attacks against journalists happened in this period in regions that legislated for their safety.

Eleven journalists were also killed or lost lives in line of duty during the same period. Additional detailed statistics are included in the report available on Freedom Network website.

Pakistan was ranked 157 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s World Press Freedom Index in 2021 before the laws were passed. In 2023, the country had improved its media freedom rank to 150 due to the two laws – a legal framework that reflected an acknowledgement by the country that it needed to tackle the problem of violence against journalists and combat impunity through legal guarantees. But that is where the progress stops.

“It is very disturbing to see the good work of the two legislatures – the Sindh Assembly and the federal parliament – diluted by not making the laws fully operational to provide protection to journalists,” Iqbal Khattak, the Executive Director of Freedom Network said while releasing the report. “Both the federal and Sindh governments are responsible for effectively dysfunctionalising their own laws and therefore delaying and effectively denying justice to journalists,” he added.

The federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act was passed unanimously by the National Assembly when Imran Khan was prime minister in 2021. After he was voted out, Shehbaz Sharif became the prime minister in 2022 until the parliamentary tenure expired in August 2023.

“In these two years, both the Khan and Sharif governments failed to establish a safety commission mandated by the law which meant that in effect the federal law remained non-operationalized and hence failed to help a single of the 93 journalists in Islamabad that were killed, attacked, injured, threatened or harassed in the two years since its enactment. The two governments also failed to enforce the law,” the report said.

A somewhat similar situation prevailed in Sindh. The Sindh Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners Act was passed in June 2021 by the provincial assembly and notified officially in August 2021, but the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners (CPJMP), proposed by the law, was only notified one year late in December 2022 with respected jurist Rasheed A Razvi appointed its first chairperson.

“Even after the Commission was set up to ensure enforcement of the law, the Sindh government until August 2023 had failed to provide either an office, staff or a formal budget for its operations, thereby procedurally hampering its operations and severely restricting the Commission’s ability to provide protection, relief and justice for the growing number of violations against journalists and media entities in Sindh province,” the report notes.

To Commission Chairperson Razvi’s credit, without any operational resources, he was able to come to the aid of several journalists in Sindh who were either kidnapped or attacked by issuing notices to the provincial authorities, including law enforcement agencies, to either recover or safeguard the journalists. “His orders were complied, indicating that if resourced properly, the Commission can help reduce impunity of crimes against journalists and media in Sindh,” according to the report.

For Pakistan to benefit from the promise of two legislations on journalists’ safety, the report makes three recommends: (i) urgent formation of a safety commission under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, (ii) appropriate and adequate resourcing, including budget, office and staff for Sindh’s Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners, and (iii) enactment of similar journalists’ safety laws by Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab after legislative assemblies are elected in these provinces in the 2024 provincial elections.

“Pakistan has a golden opportunity to become one of the strongest global performers in combating impunity for crimes against journalists with presence now on its statute books of the two specialist journalists’ safety legislations, thanks to the efforts of many stakeholders over several years, especially the Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition,” the report said. “But for this promise to materialize, these three recommendations must be implemented on priority.”

PDF Version report

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