‘Disturbing’ escalation in violence against Pakistan media, says watchdog

Islamabad, May 1 May (EFE).- In Pakistan, at least 140 incidences of threats and attacks on journalists have been reported in the last 11 months, a 63 percent increase from the previous year, said a media watchdog Monday.

Freedom Network published its annual Pakistan Press Freedom Report ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, noting that it had become “riskier and more violent” for journalists in Pakistan in recent months.

Pakistan, which ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2022, has a diversified media landscape with around 100 TV channels and more than 200 radio stations, according to the global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Hundreds of daily newspapers and periodicals are published in Urdu, English, and various regional languages.

A Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report released last year said 93 reporters have been killed in the South Asian country over the past 20 years, putting Pakistan among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

There have been increasing arrests, media censorship, online abuse, and physical attacks against journalists in Pakistan over the past year since the change in the government.

Opposition leader Imran Khan, who was ousted from power in April last year, has criticized the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif for violence by police and law enforcement agencies against the dissident journalists, calling it a “fascist regime.”

Media censorship and curbs continued during Khan’s tenure from 2018 to April 2022.

A prominent investigative journalist Arshad Sharif, a harsh critic of the incumbent government and powerful military establishment, was shot dead by police near Nairobi in Kenya.

The journalist had fled Pakistan, citing threats to his life. His mother accused former army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and current spy chief Gen Nadeem Anjum of his ‘assassination plot.’

The Freedom Network data shows that press freedom violations jumped to 140 in 2022-23 from 86 a year ago, indicating an increase of around 63 percent.

“The escalation in violence against journalists is disturbing and demands urgent attention,” said Iqbal Khattak, the head of Freedom Network, which tracks press freedom violations in Pakistan.

The report has documented the killings of at least five journalists in Pakistan between May 2022 and March 2023.

Khattak noted that curbs on independent journalism have blocked access to essential information.

“(It) is especially damaging during the ongoing political and economic crises when the public needs reliable news to understand the issues and respond,” Khattak said.

The report said assault, threats, and physical attacks form the majority of media curbs.

The capital Islamabad has become the “most dangerous region for journalists,” said the report.

“Overall, Islamabad emerged as the riskiest place to practice journalism in Pakistan with 40 percent of the violations (56 out of total 140 cases) recorded there.”

The eastern region of Punjab shared the unenviable second most dangerous spot with 25 percent of the violations (35 cases), closely followed by Sindh in the third place.

The report said political parties were among the leading threat actors.

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