October 29th, 2020 

By Rehan Piracha 


Pakistan has been placed as the ninth-worst country on the Committee to Protect Journalists’s Global Impunity Index 2020, improving a place from the eighth-worst country on last year’s index. However, journalists said the country was witnessing the worst period of impunity against media persons in its history.

According to Global Impunity Index 2020, Pakistan has 15 unsolved murder cases of journalists. However, the CPJ found that corruption, weak institutions, and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations are all factors behind impunity in these countries, which include Pakistan, Mexico, and the Philippines. According to the CPJ database, 61 journalists have been killed in attacks since 1992.

In Pakistan, a surprise legal development this year–while not directly affecting the 2020 Impunity Index–showed that even murder cases that were long thought to be resolved can be upended, the CPJ report said.

On April 2, the Sindh High Court overturned the murder convictions of four men accused in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The decision found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had previously been sentenced to death, guilty only of kidnapping Pearl and reduced his sentence to seven years, which he has already served. The Pearl family and the Sindh provincial government appealed, and according to news reports, the four men remained imprisoned at the end of September.

As CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, freeing the men “would be a devastating setback for justice that would also send a dangerous message to Jihadi militants in Pakistan and around the world, who have systematically targeted journalists in the 18 years since Pearl was killed.”

The CPJ said Pakistan and the Philippines have been mainstays on the Global Impunity Index since its inception in 2008. The Philippines is the biggest mover in this year’s rankings, improving from the fifth worst country worldwide to the seventh worst.

CPJ’s annual Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are singled out for murder and their killers go free, showed little change from a year earlier. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan occupy the worst four spots on the list, in that order, as war and political instability perpetuate the cycle of violence and lawlessness. Afghanistan was on the fifth spot, followed by Mexico on the sixth place, Philippines on the seventh, Brazil on the eight and Pakistan on the ninth spot. Bangladesh was the 10th worst country with seven unsolved cases, followed by Russsia and India with six and 17 unsolved murder cases of journalists on the Global Impunity Index 2020.

Harassment of women journalists

The CPJ has also noted that female journalists were increasingly targeted online, sometimes in gross sexualized attacks, including rape threats. In a report the CPJ said violence against women including against female reporters was on the rise. Female journalists say these social media attacks have dire offline consequences. From shying away from sharing their work, to being forced out of jobs, to declining to pursue stories, they say they feel prevented from fully participating in the profession. Female journalists are asking the government to act by embracing the norms of press freedom and stop attacking the character and integrity of journalists whose reporting they do not like, the CPJ report said.

Govt dragging feet on journalists’ protection bill, says PFUJ

Responding to the Global Impunity Index 2020, Nasir Zaidi, Secretary-General of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), said journalists were facing the worst period in terms of security and freedom of expression in the country. He said abductions, threats, intimidation, and cases were becoming a norm for media persons. The government was showing no seriousness in protecting journalists. About the Daniel Pearl case, Zaidi said the government had not build up a strong case in the anti-terrorism court. Subsequently, the judgment was overturned in the high court due to the flaws in the case, he added.

He said the federal government was also dragging its feet over the first-ever journalists’ protection bill, adding that the bill had become imperative in the present hostile situation faced by journalists in the discharge of their duties. The journalists’ protection bill, which was drafted by the government’s human rights ministry, has been sent back to the law committee by the federal government, Zaidi said.

State authorities have been accused of repression, says Matiullah Jan

Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist, told Voicepk.net that it came as no surprise that Pakistan continued to be on the index charting impunity against journalists. “It’s obvious given the kind of situation Pakistani media is facing in the country with incidents of abductions, torture, killings and inconclusive investigations,” Jan said, adding that state authorities not private groups have been accused of repression and intelligence agencies were not being held accountable.

Referring to his case of abduction, Jan said the police report submitted in the Supreme Court failed to identify suspects involved in his abduction despite footage from CCTV cameras showing police cars and armed persons in broad daylight. In his opinion, Pakistan should be on top of the Global Impunity Index.

Mehmal Sarfraz, the co-founder of news site The Current, said freedom of expression has taken a hit in the country. “Newspaper columns are sometimes dropped and there is pressure on journalists to remain within red lines,” Sarfraz said. Despite government claims to the contrary, there is a lot of censorship, she said. Lack of financial security has forced many journalists to adopt self-censorship never seen before in the country, she added.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), said the CPJ impunity index did not reflect the true situation in Pakistan as the conditions were far worse for journalists. Out of all the murder cases of journalists in the courts, not one has reached a conclusion, he said. “The level of impunity against journalists is close 100 percent in Pakistan,” he adds.

Alam said freedom of expression is being curtailed and journalists were facing cases under the cybercrime law. He said the journalists faced harassment and intimidation adding that it was imperative that the federal government quickly enact the journalists’ protection bill.