State violence against media continues in Pakistan as press freedom declines

Islamabad, Nov 2 (EFE).- State violence and intimidation against journalists continued in Pakistan with impunity in 2022, with journalists critical of the government and powerful military establishment having to flee the country.

“There is unannounced media censorship going on in the country right now and they are trying to silence dissident voices in whatever way either by filing cases against them or threatening their lives,” Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ president Afzal Butt told EFE on Wednesday, as the world observes the International Day to End impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

“They (the authorities) are doing this with impunity (…). Many journalists have been recently detained, tortured in custody and abducted. Some of them have left the country to save their lives, even though there is a democratic government,” he added.

Pakistan ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, down 12 spots from the previous year, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Arshad Sharif, a reputed journalist, was killed in suspicious circumstances in Kenya last month after he fled the country over threats to his life.

Two other well-known journalists, Moeed Pirzada and Irshad Bhatti, left Pakistan last week for safety reasons.

“Pakistan has never been a safe place for journalists,” Pirzada told EFE on Monday adding “they (journalists) have been assaulted, illegally picked up, detained and, in extreme cases, murdered.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, highlighted that more than 70 reporters have been killed this year for fulfilling their role in society, and most of these crimes remain unsolved.

The UN chief said free press was vital to a functioning democracy, by exposing wrongdoing, navigating this complex world and advancing towards Sustainable Development Goals.

“A record number of journalists are incarcerated today, while threats of imprisonment, violence and death keep growing,” Guterres said.

Since a change of government in April in Pakistan, a “reign of terror” has been unleashed against the media with draconian laws that allow arbitrary arrests and physical remands.

Several older laws have also been exploited to harass journalists.

“During the last government of Imran Khan it started, and now it has touched new heights,” remarked Butt.

Ghulam Hussain, a senior journalist and TV anchor, was arrested last by the Federal Investigation Agency in a case going back to 2003.

The slain journalist Sharif had more than 16 cases against him, including sedition charges.

“What thus distinguishes this ‘reign of terror’ from previous eras is the ‘legitimacy’ that has been given to state violence and intimidation,” Pirzada told EFE from the United Kingdom.

He said that before April, when the Imran Khan led government was ousted in a vote of no-confidence, the government and military establishment were apologetic about actions attributed to them.

However, Pirzada stressed that now the state is defending its actions, and flimsy cases have been opened against him to intimidate and pressurize him into silence.

“I didn’t leave Pakistan because of life threats, but most around me advised me not to return unless there is change in the situation and clear end to this reign of terror,” explained Pirzada.

According to him, the situation was not likely to change unless either there is a political settlement in Pakistan or pressure from the international community, especially Europe and the EU Human Rights Commission.

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