Pakistan in Press Freedom Crisis and “Rapidly Skidding Towards Lawlessness”, says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned by the rapid disintegration of press freedoms and journalist safety in Pakistan over the last six months, which has seen four journalists killed (with all four cases still unsolved), four journalists detained and tortured by intelligence agencies, the child brothers of two journalists brutally murdered, and scores of other violent incidents and threats to journalists.

Furthermore, the present economic situation for media workers in Pakistan continues to deteriorate, with little job stability and the non-implementation of the Seventh Wage Award ensuing Pakistani journalists do not receive adequate wages.

“The high rate of journalist murders and attacks on freedom of expression, combined with a near zero rate of prosecution for these crimes, indicates Pakistan is skidding rapidly towards lawlessness,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

“The current safety and economic situation for journalists in Pakistan is not sustainable, and suggests that media freedom is quickly deteriorating in Pakistan,” Warren said.

“A free and safe media is vital to a healthy, strong and vibrant democracy, and Pakistan will continue to retreat from this goal, unless something is urgently done to protect journalists’ rights and safety,” the IFJ president said.

The IFJ, as the organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries, has written to General Pervez Musharraf, the president of Pakistan, to demand that he take immediate action to rectify this terrible descent into an unsafe and threatened media environment, and to demand a commission of enquiry to investigate all these recent murders, kidnappings, attacks, threats and incidents of torture.

Four journalists murdered in six months
The body of Mohammad Ismail, a senior journalist and bureau chief of Pakistan Press International (PPI), was found with his head completely smashed open, having been struck with a hard and blunt object, in Islamabad on November 1.

Less than six weeks earlier, Maqbool Hussain Sail, correspondent of the news agency On-Line, died on the way to hospital after being shot by unidentified attackers on September 15.

Sail was reportedly on his way to the house of the local leader of the opposition Pakistan People Party when he was shot.

Hayatullah Khan’s body was discovered on Friday June 16, six months after his abduction, which followed his news reports on an explosion that killed senior Al Qaeda member, Maza Rabia.

Munir Ahmed Sangi, cameraman for the Sindhi-language Kawaish Television Network (KTN), was covering a story on a gunfight between members of the Unar and Abro tribes in the town of Larkana, in South East Pakistan’s Sinh district, when he was fatally shot on May 29.

Sangi may have been targeted because of reports by KTN and the Sindi newspaper Kawaish on the punishment of a boy and girl by the Jirga tribal council.

Terrible targeting of family members
A new disturbing trend has emerged in Pakistan, which has seen two child relatives of journalists murdered in less than one month.

Bashir Khan, the child brother of slain journalist Hayatullah Khan, was brutally murdered on September 26, in what was apparently a message to his family who had been active in trying to expose Hayatullah’s killers.

Unfortunately this is not an isolated case. On August 31, the 16-year-old brother of BBC correspondent Dilawar Khan was found tortured and murdered in volatile South Waziristan, a tribal-ruled region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The murder of Taimur Khan, who was kidnapped two days earlier, may have been to get a message to Dilawar who has been under threat for the past two years for his reporting.

Kidnappings and torture
Kawish journalist Mehruddin Marri, who was abducted on June 27, was released on October 24 after four months of torture by military intelligence officers. Marri suffered months of interrogations, beatings, and torture, including electric shocks, in an attempt to make him confess ties with the Baluch nationalist movement.

Similarly, Saeed Sarbazi, joint secretary of the Karachi Press Club, senior Sub-Editor of daily Business Recorder and member of the All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation’s National Executive Committee, was abducted by intelligence agencies on September 20 and returned late in the evening of September 22, after being beaten and kicked until unconscious, called a terrorist and criminal despite identifying himself as a journalist, being blindfolded for over 50 hours and was not allowed to eat or sleep.

Geo News reporter Mukesh Rupeta and freelance cameraman Sanjay Kumar, went missing on March 6, after being detained by Pakistani authorities for videoing the Jacobabad airbase, in Sindh. Nothing more was heard from Rupeta and Kumar by their employers or family until June 22, when their arrest was officially announced, and they were admitted to hospital because of their deteriorating health. They were released on bail on June 23.

Furthermore, one of the founders of the Baluchi-language TV station Baloch Voice, Munir Mengal, is still missing after disappearing on April 7.

Attacks, threats and abuse
Senior journalist and union leader Cr. Shamsi was brutally bashed by the security guards of the Federal Minister for Labour on September 13 in Islamabad, after Shamsi demanded the implementation of the Seventh Wage Award, and the minister ordered the guards to “fix him”.

Shamsi was beaten after a parliamentary session when he informed the Minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan of the proposed countrywide "sit-in" on September 15 in protest against the non-implementation of the Seventh Wage Award which guarantees better wages for Pakistani journalists.

A few days later, police attacked journalists at a public meeting of a religious organisation in Lahore on September 17. Wadood Mushtaq, from ARYONE World, received serious wounds on his face and jaw, and ATV's Malik Zahid and Mohannad Nazi suffered internal injuries and a fractured arm respectively.

Idress Rathore, a police officer from the Shezad Town Police Station in Islamabad has implicated Shakeel Anjum, a reporter with The News, in a triple murder case. Anjum has reportedly been critical of Idress Rathore in his articles and has faced threats since he covered a story on the extra-judicial killing of two men in May 2005. Anjum’s son was recently injured when unidentified attacks opened fire on his house.

Dire straights for journalists’ economic conditions
The present economic situation for media workers in Pakistan continues to deteriorate. Journalists who work for print media companies have little job stability, are often forced to work under contract, do not receive adequate letters of appointment, do not receive adequate wages, have no insurance, or medical support from their employers.

Pakistan newspapers owners are bound to pay the wages set out the Seventh Wage Board decision, which was handed down on October 8, 2001, and backdated to 2000, as stipulated by the Newspapers Employers Act (Conditions of Service) 1973, and passed by the National Assembly.

However, despite constant campaigning by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and other unions, with international support from the IFJ and national journalists’ unions from around the world, and regardless of promises made by the government, no progress has been made in implementing this award.

IFJ President Christopher Warren said: “The events of the last six months are a worrying indication that Pakistan is rapidly retreating further from a free and open society.”

“It absolutely unacceptable for authorities to stand by and allow murders, human rights abuses and press freedom violations to occur with little to no consequences for the perpetrators of these crimes,” Warren said.

“More must be done to ensure those who kill, attack, torture, or threaten journalists, are found and brought to justice,” the IFJ president said.

“The appalling lack of convictions for crimes against journalists sends a grave message to the world that a culture of impunity is developing in Pakistan, which has terrible implications for the future,” he said.

For more information please contact IFJ Asia Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries