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At least 48 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in Pakistan in the last 10 years, and 35 of them were deliberately targeted and murdered because of their work. In 2012 alone, five journalists were killed in the country, according to IPI’s Death Watch. For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence.
Each year one journalist gets a Pulitzer and one hundred get shot. The ratio may be an exaggeration, but then again it may not. Journalists continue to be targeted the world over, and the trend is increasing. Part of the problem is the culture of impunity.
Edmund Burke quite rightly noted: “the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse”. The concept of diplomatic immunity is the most widely accepted rule of international law. That is not to say that its application is uncontroversial. In fact, abuses of diplomatic privileges have culminated in inter-state tensions as well as attacks on the very concept of absolute immunity itself.
In the past twelve years (2006-2017), the UN estimates that close to 1,010 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. What is unacceptable is that in nine out of 10 cases the killers go unpunished.
Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. The ultimate sufferers are the people. Impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime.
The alarming increase in violence and threats has forced many journalists to migrate from these danger zones. According to some estimates, one-third of FATA journalists has already moved to other areas or given up the profession.
Only last month, journalist Sohail Khan was shot and killed in Haripur just days after filing a story about the local drug mafia. Sohail had just left the District Police Office (DPO) in Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when he was shot at several times. He died at the scene. He was at the DPO filing an application for protection after receiving multiple death threats following his report on drug mafia in Pakistan. It is widely believed that members of the drug mafia killed Sohail in retaliation for his reporting.
Such tensions and critique surfaced just recently in the aftermath of the death of a 22-year-old boy, Ateeq Baig, at the hands of Colonel Joseph Hall, defence and air attaché at the US Embassy in Islamabad, who had been recklessly driving. The offence itself is a crime in all jurisdictions across the globe, including the jurisdiction of the US to which Hall belongs.
It sounds almost barbaric to have to accept that we live in a world where such brazen disrespect of host state laws by diplomats is allowed to go unchecked without any consequences even when a young boy is killed.
First, the incident calls for some serious reflection on our part as a society on how we allow our laws and regulations to be perceived internally and externally.
When we ourselves have no respect for our laws, do we sincerely believe that foreigners will come to our country and respect the very laws we so proudly flout?
Second, there is also a level of introspection required on the part of our Foreign Office and government in general. Following the incident, Dr Mohammad Faisal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) tweeted: “Foreign Ministry closely following investigation into the road accident involving a US diplomat which led to the tragic death of a Pakistani citizen in Islamabad”.
In a similar vein, Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal posted in a tweet: “Very tragic road accident involving US diplomat in which visibly traffic law was violated resulting in the death of a Pakistani citizen”. Both statements managed only to term such brazen violation of our laws and the death of our citizens as “tragic”.
If the government in Pakistan was quick to catch and punish such killers, the incidents of journalists being targeted would be rare. But Pakistan today has become one of the deadliest countries for journalists and ranks in the top 10 of the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, of those countries that do not investigate and prosecute murders of journalists.
Pakistani journalists are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords, as well as some political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law. Sadly, the perpetrators of violence against journalists and media workers enjoy almost absolute impunity in Pakistan.
According to research conducted by the Pakistan Press Foundation, a local NGO, since 2001, 71 journalists and media workers have lost their lives while pursuing their duties. Of these, 47 have been deliberately targeted and murdered in the line of duty, whereas others were killed while covering dangerous assignments. In only two cases have the murderers been convicted by the courts.
To curb this menace against journalists, not only cases of crimes against them need to be registered, but these should also be properly investigated and prosecuted against the perpetrators. Killers need to be apprehended and punished to effectively counter the culture of impunity. So far this is not happening.
For us, the government needs to investigate and prosecute all cases where journalists are targeted. The reality, unfortunately, is that the state has failed to demonstrate any resolve. The killers of Daniel Pearl were tracked down because of sustained international pressure, while the murderers of Wali Babar too were tried, found guilty and sentenced after much hue and cry and also because of political reasons. The rest of the 99% cases remain unresolved.
The UN General Assembly has proclaimed November 2 as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.’ The resolution has urged member states to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the killing of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.
According to UN figures, over the past decade, 700 journalists have been killed across the world over during the course of discharging their duties. This averages out to one death a week. Violence against those who work in the media is far more endemic when the figures beyond the number of deaths are tallied.
According to figures complies by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), of the 48 journalists killed in the line of duty during the past 11 years, 14 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 12 from Baluchistan, nine from Sindh, eight from the Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies (FATA), three from Punjab and two from the federal capital, Islamabad.
Of the 35 journalists murdered since the year 2002 because of their work, 11 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 10 from Baluchistan, four from FATA, seven from Sindh, two from Punjab and one from Islamabad. Of 48 journalists killed, 25 were shot, three targeted in suicide attacks, seven killed in suicide bomb blasts, nine abducted before being murdered, while four were killed in crossfire.
There are those who argue that the media itself should take the lead in ensuring safety of media practitioners. Local, national and international print, electronic and online media should ensure long-term follow-up of cases of assault on media organizations and workers.
But much more can be done. Journalists should be provided with safety and first-aid trainings and guidance on how to report in a hostile environment.
Journalists working in conflict areas should also be provided with guidance in recognizing and dealing with stress and post-traumatic stress. Safety equipment should be given to journalists covering conflicts. Threats and attacks can be reduced to some extent by adopting a professional approach and impartial and unbiased reporting.
Free media is essential to democracy in Pakistan as it promotes transparency and accountability, a prerequisite of sustained economic uplift. The impunity enjoyed by those who attack journalists is seriously hampering press freedom in Pakistan and all stakeholders, including media organizations, the government and civil society should join hands to devise mechanisms for ensuring the safety of working journalists.
We need to recognize the dangers faced by journalists. And we also need to understand that if we do not fight the culture of impunity, more journalists will needlessly die in the field and that is a frightening thought.