Freedom Network report about the impunity of such murders reveals shocking stats
October 29, 2022
By Xari Jalil
Coinciding with the murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya, the Freedom Network (FN) Pakistan, a national media watchdog has released a report where it is revealed that between 2012 and 2022, at least 53 journalists from various media were murdered in Pakistan. Since 2000, over 150 journalists and other media workers have been killed in Pakistan. The report has been authored by Adnan Rehmat and Waqas Naeem.
During the decade, the highest number of journalists murdered was in 2014, with 13 journalists and media workers reported killed. These were not restricted to one area, but were spread across the country, including two attacks by militant groups on vans of two separate media outlets in Karachi. In the attack, four media workers were killed.
In fact, the horrifying fact revealed by the report is that there was not one year during this decade when a journalist was not killed. An average of five journalists were killed each year.
Yet when it comes to access to justice, have there been rightful convictions to killers of journalists, or is there widespread impunity? These are two key questions the report attempts to answer based on their empirical findings.
The specific 10-year period was chosen because first, Pakistan endorsed the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in 2013. It was meant to be one of the five pilot countries for early implementation, a year after the launch of the plan.
Another reason is that 2022 marks 10 years since the UN Plan of Action was announced by UNESCO in 2012. The timeframe for both these plans was a relevant starting point to evaluate the due process of law and justice. The report examines the registration of a murder case with the police down to its complete investigation, eventually a trial and conclusion.
Pakistan’s Impunity Stats 2012 to 2022
Journalists murdered: 53
FIRs registered: 40 (94% of the murders)
Police challan (charge-sheets filed in courts) 31 (62% of all FIRs)
Cases declared fit for trial by court: 26 (84% of all charge-sheets)
Prosecution and trial completed: 12 (46% of all trials)
Killers convicted: 2 (4% of all murders)
Impunity for killers: 51 (96% of all murders)
Even though Pakistan did become the first country in the world in 2021 to specifically legislate on safety for journalists through a federal law passed by the national parliament, and a provincial law passed by the Sindh Assembly in 2021, by the fall of 2022, neither of the two laws had been operationalized by instituting the safety commissions that are supposed to implement these laws.
In fact, there are no provincial laws yet in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Punjab that could help protect journalists and counter the high levels of impunity of crimes against journalists.
Most dangerous mediums
The report reveals that almost every kind of media is affected, but during the decade in focus, most journalists who were murdered belonged to the print media (31), followed by TV journalists (23), digital media (4), and finally radio (2).
Some of the journalists were not limited to one media; they held multiple news jobs across various media types. Those who were from digital media were all citizen journalists actively using social media.
Print media, therefore, emerged as the most vulnerable medium. TV journalists in Pakistan are also at substantial risk of fatal attacks – 43% of the total 53 journalists had connections with TV news.
Most dangerous regions
Of the 53 journalists murdered between 2012-22, most incidents took place in Sindh followed by Punjab. Fifty of the journalists targeted in the line of duty were killed on the spot by their attackers while at least three were kidnapped and taken away before being killed.
Worst enemies of journalists
Mysterious, nameless and unidentified actors constitute the biggest threat actor to journalists during this decade, with 15 of the 53 journalists (or 28%) murdered by them, as reported by family members or colleagues of the victims. The second biggest source of threat was organized crime – suspected of being behind the murder of 13 journalists (or 24.5% of the total). The third threat came from various militant groups (10 journalists or 19%).
There are also other sources of the attacks recorded including political parties (11%), local influentials (7.5%) and state authorities (6%). In two separate cases, two women journalists were allegedly murdered by their husbands after they reportedly refused to quit journalism.
According to data available, more than half of the journalists apparently did not inform their media employers, press club, union or local authorities about any threats to them. Less than 10% of all journalists had informed their media employers, press club, union or local authorities about death threats. Even in cases where advance warning was available, the system and relevant stakeholders were unable to prevent murders. These were all preventable deaths.
It is important to note, that media organizations or employers of those who were murdered never become the first party to the case of their full-time, part-time or assignment-based workers. In over two-thirds of the cases, the process of invoking the law and justice system was left to the families to pursue and undertake, making the matter of seeking justice a private family affair instead of making the employers, on whose behalf the journalists assume risks, a party to the process. Neither does the state become a party to the case of journalists murdered.
Incomplete investigation – police failures
Even in the initial stages of the legal process, the state fails in its responsibility to seek justice for the murdered journalists and their families. This is seen through the failure of the police in completing a proper preliminary investigation without which the case cannot go to a court for trial. According to the report, one in five journalists murdered in Pakistan for their work is guaranteed not to get justice because their case never goes to court thanks to an incomplete police investigation.
Of the 53 journalists murdered in Pakistan between 2012 and 2022, information on whether the police completed a challan (investigation report) was available in only 42 cases (79%). According to the information given by the family members of the 42 murdered journalists, in only 31 cases did the police only investigated the case just enough to transfer the case file to the court. In nine cases, the police failed to even generate a final challan – or full investigation report – to submit to a trial court.
Incomplete trial – court failures
In the second stage of the investigation, it was found that less than half of the murder cases of journalists investigated by the police reached the court and were declared fit for trial. Therefore for every second journalist murdered, the race for justice ends at this early stage. For about two-thirds of journalists murdered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, the path to justice is likely to never enter a trial stage making the incidence of impunity the highest in these two provinces in Pakistan. The chances for cases of murdered journalists to enter the trial stage are better in Balochistan and Sindh but are still not guaranteed for one-third of the journalists killed there.
Near zero punishment – justice failures
The level of impunity enjoyed by killers of journalists in Pakistan is shocking. The killers only two of the 53 journalists murdered in the period 2012-22 were convicted by courts – that is, 4% of the total murders. For nearly all journalists murdered (51 out of 53, or 96% of the total) the criminal justice system failed to deliver. Due to the poor quality of prosecution, most cases never complete the trial process in the courts and even those few that do, fail to establish the culpability of the accused either walk free for lack of evidence or, in a quarter of the cases that reached the prosecution stage, strike an out-of-court settlement with the family of the victim thereby cementing impunity for their crimes.
In Pakistan fatalities amongst journalists targeted for their work are the highest in Sindh – nearly every third of journalists murdered in the country is from this region. Punjab, Balochistan, and KP altogether account for the remaining nearly two out of three journalists murdered in the country. Islamabad appears to be relatively safest in terms of fatal threats to journalists although at least one murder has been documented there as well.
Most of the 53 journalists murdered in Pakistan between 2012 and 22 were male. The two women journalists who were killed included Urooj Iqbal from Punjab and Shaheena Shaheen from Balochistan, who were killed in almost similar circumstances, within a year of each other.
According to reports, Urooj Iqbal’s husband allegedly shot her dead in Lahore in November 2019. Urooj, 27, was a reporter and was in the process of launching her own news publication. She had previously filed a police complaint about the abusive behavior of her husband. Urooj’s family believed the husband, also a journalist, wanted her to drop the idea of her own newspaper and had threatened to kill her before actually doing it.
Similarly, Shaheena Shaheen, 25, was murdered in Turbat, Balochistan, in September 2020. She was a TV anchorperson and the editor of a local magazine. According to the police report, Shaheena’s family accused her husband of killing her. She had only been married for a few months at the time of the murder and had reportedly refused to quit her journalism after getting married.
While numbers show that men are vulnerable to lethal attacks from a variety of sources, this in no way indicates that women are safe from threats. Women journalists in Pakistan are regularly targeted with trolling, misogynistic abuse, workplace harassment, and gendered disinformation to discredit their work and malign their reputations. These threats and attacks may have physical and psychological repercussions for the journalists.
Meanwhile, most murderous attacks come from sources that may be familiar to media practitioners while they are alive but remain mostly unidentified to their media organizations, families and the state after the target killings. The killers of almost a third of the murdered journalists remain unknown or unidentified. Nearly two-thirds of the journalists (62% to be precise) were murdered allegedly by non-state actors such as militant groups, criminal gangs, local influentials and functionaries of political parties. Militant gangs seem to be most active in Sindh, organized crime in Punjab and unknown attackers in Balochistan.