Dangers ahead

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has urged Pakistan to “take immediate steps” to probe the recent spate of disappearances and killings of journalists in the country. “In the past eight days alone, we have received reports on the killing of one journalist, Munir Shakir, in Balochistan on August 14, and the disappearance of another journalist, Rehmatullah Darpakhel, three days earlier in North Waziristan on August 11,” said OHCHR spokesman Rupert Coleville. Apart from the UN, Amnesty International also asked Pakistan to tackle the threats to journalists. “Authorities in Pakistan must ensure journalists and media workers are given adequate protection to carry out their jobs without fearing for their lives,” Amnesty International said. Such concerns have been expressed both at the local level and internationally.

Journalists in Balochistan and the tribal areas have had to face a lot of dangers. In Balochistan, journalists are intimidated, harassed, kidnapped and killed by the military and its proxies. In the tribal areas, journalists have to face the wrath of both the militants and the military. Almost three months ago, renowned investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad was kidnapped from Islamabad and two days later his dead body was found from Mandi Bahauddin. It is believed that Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, is behind Mr Shahzad’s brutal murder and a judicial commission to probe his murder has been formed.

Journalists in Pakistan are no strangers to danger. Many journalists have lost their lives while covering conflict. Journalists in Pakistan are between a rock and a hard place – they are harassed and threatened by the terrorists, religious right wing, powerful mafias, and/or the military. Some journalists have even had to leave the country following threats to their lives. The culture of impunity is one reason why journalists do not feel safe here. While a large portion of our media is right wing and toes the military’s line, there are some notable exceptions, particularly in the English press, who are not afraid to voice their objective opinions. There are still many honest and credible journalists on our private television channels as well who do not shy away from speaking the truth.

It is time for all journalist bodies to come together, regardless of their ideological differences, and ensure that their colleagues’ lives are protected. The government also needs to punish those behind such acts. It is the duty of the media to bring to light hard facts. If journalists are not able to do their jobs fearlessly, then we cannot call our media ‘free’.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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