Journalists in Pakistan continue to face harassment, arrest, and abduction for reporting on sensitive political issues. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2023, it is worth remembering that press freedom is a fundamental pillar of any democratic society, and it is the government's responsibility to ensure that journalists are able to perform their duties without fear of reprisals.
In the year 2023, several Pakistani journalists have been arrested, including Shahid Aslam, a reporter for BOL news, for using leaked tax data in his reporting. Aslam is known for being a vocal critic of the Pakistani military. The authorities arrested Aslam on January 13, and accused him of being involved in a FactFocus article published on November 19, 2022, which revealed the assets of former Pakistani Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family and detailed how they amassed wealth over the past six years.
Steven Butler, a journalist and the Senior Program Consultant of the Committee to Protect Journalists, tweeted:
Jailing a journalist and trying to force him to reveal sources is a sure way to kill press freedom and obscure official corruption. @ShahidAslam87 should be released at once. Journalism is not a crime!! #ReleaseShahidAslam https://t.co/iGrwjDzKRf
— Steven Butler (@StevenBButler) January 14, 2023
International watchdogs have ranked Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In recent years, several prominent journalists and media workers have been targeted and killed, with a significant number of these cases remaining unresolved.
Arrest, abduction and killing of prominent journalists
Arshad Sharif, a renowned Pakistani investigative journalist known for his fearless reporting on sensitive issues and criticism of Pakistan's military, was fatally shot in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 23, 2022. His murder serves as a tragic reminder of the perils that journalists in Pakistan often face.
After the killing, his wife Javeria Siddique demanded answers from the government, tweeting:
Three states Pakistan, Kenya and UAE are responsible and answerable in the killing of my late husband @arsched .
It was planned and targeted assassination according to@RSF_en @danbast #JusticeForArshadSharifhttps://t.co/54xGzp1hPF
— Javeria Siddique (@javerias) January 21, 2023
In early 2023, journalist Syed Fawad Ali Shah was tracked down and found imprisoned in Pakistan after he was reported missing in Malaysia in late 2022. Shah was known for a series of investigative stories on cases of enforced disappearances by military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan. In 2011, he was abducted and detained by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for three and a half months, after which he fled from Pakistan.
🇵🇰PAKISTAN: ‘They put a black hood over my face and took me to the airport’ – @SyedFawadAli303 shares the situation of journalists in his country and his experience of persecution, exile and deportation
Read the full interview at: https://t.co/BbbejhSBZX #CIVICUSLens pic.twitter.com/ZMaWDCaY6c
— CIVICUS (@CIVICUSalliance) April 20, 2023
Earlier in 2022, a senior crime reporter, Hasnain Shah, was ruthlessly shot and killed in broad daylight near Lahore Press Club.
Khaleej Magazine tweeted about the attacks on press freedom in Pakistan:
Worst attacks on freedom of the press in Pakistan have started. Top journalists facing threats.
— Khaleej Mag (@KhaleejMag) May 22, 2022
Syed Iqrar Ul Hassan, a renowned journalist known for his TV program Sar-e-Aam, which often employs sting operations to expose corruption and injustice in Pakistan, was brutally beaten up for uncovering corruption in the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau.
A worrying trend
Unfortunately, the situation for journalists in Pakistan has been steadily declining over the years, with increasing incidents of arrests, abductions, and violence against them. This concerning trend not only violates fundamental human rights but also poses a threat to democracy and the rule of law. The general public relies on journalists to provide them with information and hold those in power accountable. When journalists are silenced, the public is left in the dark, allowing corruption and abuse to continue unquestioned.
Journalists who work in conflict zones, such as Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are particularly vulnerable to threats from militant groups, criminal gangs, and unidentified state actors. According to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 61 journalists have been deliberately targeted and killed in Pakistan since 1992.
Pakistan's ranking on the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), is 157 out of 180, which indicates why there is concern about the state of press freedom in the country.
Despite the dire situation for journalists in Pakistan, there are also glimmers of hope. Journalist Muhammad Awab Anjum from Islamabad shares his thoughts in his blog:
While Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the reality is that journalists in the country face significant challenges in carrying out their work. Despite this, there are many dedicated journalists and organisations that continue to advocate for press freedom and work to hold those in power accountable. It is important for the government to take action to address the challenges facing journalists and to create an environment that fosters free and independent media.