Pakistan slips further in Press Freedom Index as scribes face threats

Press freedom in Pakistan is on a downward spiral due to attacks and intimidation, according to a media rights watchdog. The report, launched by the Freedom Network, titled ‘Murders, harassment and assault: The tough wages of journalism in Pakistan’, documents 91 assaults and other violations against journalists during the past 12 months.

The list of violations includes the killing of seven journalists, two abduction cases, nine detention cases, eight instances of frivolous lawsuits, 10 cases of censorship, 10 physical assaults, half of which caused severe bodily injuries, and more than 20 cases of written or verbal threats.

Islamabad, the report claimed is the most dangerous place to practice journalism in Pakistan, with 31 out of the total 91 cases recorded in the federal capital. On the list of most dangerous places within the country, Sindh took the second spot with a total of 24 cases of violations against journalists, followed closely by Punjab with 20 cases, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 13, and Balochistan with three cases.

According to the report in 42% of the documented cases of violations against media workers, the victims or their families suspect the involvement of the state and its authorities.

In its report, the Freedom Network lists written threats of murder as the top violation against journalists, followed by verbal threats, offline and online harassment, and cases of assassination attempts of which seven resulted in killings.

Pakistan’s Express Tribune quoting Steven Butler, the Asia program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, who was forced to leave the country last year as saying, “There is no doubt that press freedom is under assault in Pakistan.”

“Journalists cannot work freely and do their job of supporting Pakistani democracy when they are under constant attack,” cautioned Butler, who heads the Asia program at the New York-based journalist watchdog group.

Meanwhile, parents of murdered US journalist Daniel Pearl have filed an appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court to reverse a decision overturning the longstanding convictions of four men in the case. A Sindh high court sparked outrage last month when it acquitted British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh and three other men convicted in Pearl’s 2002 kidnapping and beheading.

“We have filed an appeal of this decision to the Pakistan Supreme Court,” Pearl’s father, Judea Pearl, says in a video message.

“We are standing up for justice not only for our son but for all our dear friends in Pakistan so they can live in a society free of violence and terror and raise their children in peace and harmony.”

Faisal Siddiqui, the lawyer representing Pearl’s parents, told AFP that there is “substantial incriminating evidence, both oral and forensic, against the accused persons for the offenses they have been tried for.”

The “Sindh High Court has misapplied the burden and the standard of proof erroneously to the facts of this case,” their appeal states.

Tariq Bilal, a senior Pakistani lawyer, says the court would take up both appeals simultaneously.

The “filing of the appeal by parents alongside the state would carry greater weight for the court as both parties have questioned the acquittal,” Bilal says.

Pearl was South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi in January 2002 while researching a story about terrorists.

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