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No legal proceedings in most cases of journalist' harassment in Pakistan

PPF reports two murders of journalists and 30 assault cases in 2022

by Editor - 25 Jan, 2023 1518

Asim Khan

“I was threatened on August 25, 2021 after publishing the story of harassment of female students by a professor at the University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir.”, said Faiza Gilani, reporter of Country News from Muzaffarabad.

Gillani added that she reported the incident to a nearby police station, but due to family pressure she stepped back from legal procedure. She added that this was not the first incident, she routinely comes under attack due to her work and sometimes remains in trauma for days but does not highlight incidents for safety purposes.

Tales of harassment and violence against media workers

Zahra Kazmi is a freelance investigative journalist from Islamabad who writes on security related issues, enforced disappearances and war. She faced online abuse many times for her work due to which she became mentally disturbed. She said that some people send adult content and accused her of being a traitor or an agent trying to harm the security of the country.

“In August 2022, I did a story about the increase in Baloch missing students, following which I used to wake up having dozens of abusive Twitter messages. Since it was not the first time, I chose not to open those messages and delete them without reading. It kept me mentally upset for days, so I took a break from social media’’, Kazmi added.

“In my opinion, the rules should be simplified, and social education would be another useful tool to teach people that differences in opinions are right for everyone and all citizens are free to express their opinions. This behavior can be brought through education and our teachers and educational institutions can play an important role in this direction”, Kazmi said.

Tribal journalist Gohar Mehsud was also assaulted by an unknown individual when he was covering an event outside National Press Club Islamabad in August 2021. Mehsud said that he was assaulted by some unknown persons and after which he filed an FIR in Islamabad Police Station, the accused was also arrested, but the matter was resolved later in Jirga.

Shah Faisal Afghani, reporter of Aaj News and president of Chakdara Press Club was assaulted on April 2, 2022 by Bakht Bedar, former minister of Minister of Industries, Commerce and Labour KP after posting the initial election results of local government election in Lower Dir on his social media account. Faisal told PPF that he submitted an application in the police station but stepped back due to societal pressure.

Violence against journalists in figures

In 2022, Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) has recorded 2 deaths of journalists in connection to their work, at least 30 different instances of physical assault of media professionals, 2 raids at houses of media professionals and an attack on a press club, at least 12 instances of threat being issued as well as online attacks taking on a gendered nature with attacks on women journalists, at least 10 arrests in connection with their work and case registration against at least 9 different media professionals.

Unfortunately, in almost every case of violation of press freedom, journalists either do not take any legal action or withdraw their FIRs following family or societal pressures. Not only physical or digital attacks incidents conclude without any adequate legal action, but incidents of journalist killings in Pakistan are sometimes resolved with the payment of blood money. While a victim’s family may have no other alternative due to possible security concerns and financial pressures, this trend is also a reflection of the lack of legal support of families of murdered journalists.

According to Pakistan Press Foundation’s report, blood money or compensation provided to the victim's family has brought an end to investigations into the murder of a journalist in at least three instances -Sajid Tanoli, Ameer Bux Brohi, and Shahid Soomro. In the case of the murder of Soomro,a jirga (local elders) played a role in settling the matter.

Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021

Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021, makes the government responsible to protect journalists from any kind of harassment. According to the act, “the government shall insure that every journalist and media professional’s right to life and security of person as, contained in article 9 of the constitution, is safe, and that no such individual is subjected to ill treatment. No person or institution, whether private or public, shall engage in any act that violates the right to life and security of any journalist or media professional.”

General Secretary Peshawar Press Club, Irfan Musazai said that Incidents of physical harassment of journalists come to light once or twice in every month, press club formed a committee to deal with it and take stand until the legal action against the accused is completed.

The government needs to implement the laws made for journalists and make sure that journalists are safe so they can do their work properly and highlight the issues of a society.