Assassination is the worst form of censorship, an experience not uncommon in the media practitioners’ community in Pakistan. If impunity is exemption from punishment, then Pakistan excels at it when it comes to impunity enjoyed by predators of media freedoms.
According to a 2022 Freedom Network report examining impunity of crimes against journalists in Pakistan, since the year 2000 over 150 journalists have been murdered for their journalism work in the country but the killers of only two have been convicted by courts. This high level of impunity of crimes against journalists – 96 per cent – in Pakistan is even worse than the global average of 86 per cent according to a 2022 UNESCO report on impunity. The high levels of impunity of crimes against journalists in Pakistan are essentially a failure of the criminal justice system that failed to improve even ten years after the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity was launched in 2012 with Pakistan as one of the five pilot countries for its implementation.
While Pakistan became the first country in Asia to legislate specifically for safety of journalists in 2021, its legal framework has failed to operationalize or benefit even one journalist punished or murdered for journalism. A study by Freedom Network in 2022 reveals that of the trials of 53 journalists killed in Pakistan between 2012-22, perpetrators were convicted in only two cases, with the criminal justice system hopelessly failing to deliver justice for the slain journalists and their bereaved families.
This was mainly due to poor police investigation and poor legal prosecution, ensuring that most cases never complete the trial process. Managed by Freedom Network, the Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition (PJSC) is a broad-based alliance of media stakeholders, civil society, human rights commissions, political parties, women’s rights groups and digital rights advocates that has successfully campaigned for legislation on safety of journalists.
Among other things, in 2022 the PJSC held an international conference in Islamabad marking a decade of the UN Plan of Action and participated by the prime minister who accepted that the government should do more to combat impunity of crimes against journalists.