London, April 30 :
Pakistani journalists live under constant threat of being killed, harassment and other violence from all sides, including intelligence services, political parties and armed groups like the Taliban, the Amnesty International said in a report Wednesday.
“A bullet has been chosen for you: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan” describes how the Pakistani authorities have almost completely failed to stem human rights abuses against media persons or to bring those responsible for such account.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people campaigning to protect human rights. It has documented 34 cases of journalists being killed in Pakistan in response to their work since the restoration of democratic rule in 2008, but only in one case, the perpetrators have been brought to justice.
“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.
“The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another.”
The report is based on extensive field research into over 70 cases and interviews with over 100 media workers in Pakistan. It examines many recent cases where journalists have been targeted for their reporting.
Many journalists interviewed by the Amnesty complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they claimed were connected to the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While some are featured in the report with names changed, others could not be included even under a false name because they feared for their lives.
The intelligence agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but no serving ISI officials has ever been held to account – allowing it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law.
Human rights violations against journalists by the ISI often follow a familiar pattern that starts with threatening phone calls and escalates into abductions, torture and other ill-treatment, and in some cases killings.
Journalists are also victims of human rights abuses by non-state groups across the country. Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political actors across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favourable coverage.
In Karachi, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat religious group and others stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical.
In conflict-ridden regions in the northwest and Balochistan province, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and ethnic Baloch armed groups openly threaten reporters with death and attack them in retaliation for seeking to highlight their abuses or not promoting their ideology.
Journalists in Pakistan’s heartland of the Punjab have also faced threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked groups, the report said.
Despite the wave of violence and attacks, the Pakistani authorities have largely failed to hold perpetrators to account. In the overwhelming number of cases researched by the Amnesty, authorities rarely adequately investigated threats or attacks or brought those responsible to justice.
Only in a handful of high-profile cases have more thorough investigations been carried out, and only after public outrage has made it impossible for authorities not to act, the Amnesty report said.
“The government has promised to improve the dire situation for journalists, including by establishing a public prosecutor tasked with investigating attacks against journalists. But few concrete steps have been taken,” said David Griffiths.
“A critical step for Pakistan will be to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. This will send a powerful signal to those who target journalists that they no longer have free reign.”