July 6th, 2021
International media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has listed Prime Minister Imran Khan on the list of 37 heads of states or governments who had crack down massively on press freedom in their respective countries.
Responding to the RSF report a prime minister’s aide called it ‘typical propaganda’ while the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz termed the report a charge-sheet against the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
“There are now 37 leaders from around the world in RSF’s predators of press freedom gallery and no one could say this list is exhaustive,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. Prime Minister Imran Khan was among 17 entrants making their first appearance on the 2021 list, which RSF is publishing five years after the last one, from 2016.
Besides Prime Minister Imran Khan, the RSF list includes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Chinese President Xi Jingping, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tajik President Emamoli Rakhmon, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, King of Bahrain Hamed bin Isa Al Khalifa and Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un.
“All are heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered,” the RSF report said.
According to a portrait of the Pakistani premier on the predators list 2021 published on the RSF website, cases of brazen censorship are legion since Imran Khan became prime minister. “Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed,” the RSF stated.
“Journalists who cross the red lines have been threatened, abducted and tortured. In the shadows, behind Khan in the limelight, Pakistan is reliving some of the worst moments of its past military dictatorships,” the RSF said.
“Stop covering annoying stories or your family won’t see you alive again.” This, in substance, is the message given to the many journalists and bloggers who have been the targets of kidnappings and death threats since Imran Khan became prime minister, the RSF report said.
The media watchdog said that even journalists who have chosen to live abroad for security reasons have been subjected to intimidation attempts and physical attacks in the countries where they thought they had found a refuge.
“Cyberspace, the last sanctuary for free speech and freely-reported news and information, is being subjected to increasingly draconian censorship measures by Khan’s government, while troll armies harass and vilify all journalists and bloggers who dare express criticism, automatically labelling them as anti-Pakistan, anti-military and… anti-Khan. The circle is complete,” reads the RSF report.
Government rejects RSF report
Dr Arslan Khalid, Focal Person To Prime Minister on Digital Media, rejected the RSF report, calling it typical propaganda of the international media watchdog.
“Journalists who live abroad have opted that life themselves. They were never attacked here nor intimidated anywhere else. If this had been true, how come government authorities abroad have never said anything about Pakistan’s involvement in any of the attacks,” Khalid said in a tweet.
“It’s comical that the RSF is talking about free speech and yet calling people trolls who dare to disagree with the journalists. I will encourage the RSF to do a report on journalists who do fake news stories every other day and cry harassment for simply being corrected by users with facts,” Khalid said in another tweet, responding to claims in the RSF report that journalists were trolled and threatened on social media.
Imran Khan defiling Pakistan’s image abroad: PML-N
PML-N party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb said the international community had slammed the Pakistani government’s suppression of the freedom of expression.
“The report says that the PTI government is worse than military dictatorships in Pakistan when it comes to press freedom. The Human Rights Watch, Pakistan Press Freedom Report and Freedom Network Report had already declared the Imran government as the worst media gagging administration in the history of the country,” she said.
The PML-N leader said the RSF report had exposed the government’s predatory behavior towards the media. She said the actions by the PTI government had not only reflected negatively on Pakistan’s journalism but also adversely affected the country’s position when it came to Financial Action Task Force and the GSP Plus status by the European Union.
She said the report pointed out that newspaper distribution and news channel broadcasting were hampered by the PTI government. “The RSF report mentions that journalists are harassed, abducted and assaulted for crossing the red lines defined by the state. The report also pointed out that freedom of expression on social media is also being curbed through new dark and draconian laws,” she said.