ISLAMABAD: Freedom Network [FN], Pakistan’s first media watchdog organization, has demanded of all the four provincial governments and administrations in other special zones to each create an office of special public prosecutor to exclusively deal with cases of attacks on media in areas of their jurisdiction in Pakistan where impunity is making the situation worse.
The demand was made to coincide with November 23, the International Day Against Impunity. A global campaign is under way to highlight the need for tackling impunity against media. Pakistan is among the five worst countries of the world to practice journalism according to international watchdog groups on freedom of expression. Over 90 journalists have been killed in the last decade in Pakistan with the killers of not a single journalist, identified, arrested, prosecuted and punished making the country one of the worst cases of impunity.
“As long as the issue of impunity is not addressed by investigating the murders of these journalists, as well as kidnapping, intimidation and harassment cases involving working journalists, these attacks will continue thanks to the prevalent impunity,” FN said in the statement.
The campaign – International Day to End Impunity (November 23) – has been launched to support the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity and the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif endorsed and supported the initiative when Federal Minister For Information Pervaiz Rasheed addressed the inaugural meeting of Steering Committee of National Coalition on Media Safety in Islamabad on October 8.
November 23 marks the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, the single deadliest incident for journalists in recent history, in which 58 people – including 32 journalists and media workers – were murdered in the Philippines in a single incident. To date, no perpetrators have been brought to justice, according to IFEX.
What is Impunity? Press freedom organizations define the issue this way: “When someone acts with impunity, it means that their actions have no consequences. Intimidation, threats, attacks and murders go unpunished. This creates a climate of injustice and insecurity. A culture of impunity leads to a world where people are afraid to speak out: Criticism is stifled; the hard questions don’t get asked; the powerful don’t get challenged. And the result is a world where free expression is silenced.”
And that is what actually happening in Pakistan on the ground. Although figures vary but in the last ten years over 90 journalists have been killed and no single case of murder of these journalists has ever been investigated or their killers brought to justice. A blog by renowned Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir proves our worse fears revealing nature and sources of coercive censorship pressures that Pakistani media faces from state and non-state actors.
According to date gathered by Freedom Network, in 2013 alone, seven journalists in Pakistan have been reported killed in different circumstances in the line of duty with some becoming victims of suicide attacks and bombings and others target-killed and the perpetrators of some of these crimes publicly acknowledging involvement in the crimes.
As it is the case for last a few years, Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province continues to make journalism a life-threatening profession. Four of the seven journalists killed in Pakistan in 2013 were killed in line of duty in Balochistan. One each was killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Sindh province. A media assistant, Gul Sher, driver of ARY News channel, was also killed.
The latest victim was Ayub Khattak, a journalist from southern Karak district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He was target-killed after he reporting about sale of drugs in his neighborhood. The drug-peddlers were jailed and upon their release killed Khattak on October 11, 2013. His killers were identified and nominated but they are still at large.
What is the way out to combat impunity against journalists in Pakistan? Case studies of Mexico and Colombia offer a likely solution for Pakistan. The two countries experienced increased number of attacks on media and the situation changed following the creation of the office of a special public prosecutor to deal exclusively with cases involving attacks on media.
“Law and order issue is a provincial subject in Pakistan and the provinces will need to take a lead in combating impunity against journalists by appointing special prosecutors within their respective territorial jurisdiction,” the FN said.
A special program is planned jointly by Peshawar Press Club, Khyber Union of Journalists and Freedom Network on November 23 in Peshawar where the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and opposition members in the provincial assembly, family members of slain journalists, Tribal Union of Journalists were invited to discuss the impunity issue and likely solution.