No One Killed Jokhio

Despite the fact that the Pakistan Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression, the country is the fifth most dangerous place for journalists in the world.

By Sajad Jatoi | July 2023

In the realm of press freedom, Pakistan finds itself in a deeply concerning position. Reporters Without Borders, a prominent international organization advocating for press freedom across the world, has ranked Pakistan a dismal 150th out of 180 countries in their annual World Press Freedom Index. Although Pakistan’s status has improved by 7 places as the country was at 157th position in 2022, the improvement is minuscule and is not something to be proud of. In fact, this ranking reflects the country’s status as the fifth most dangerous place for journalists, where the very act of reporting can cost lives.

Since 2003, a staggering 93 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, a number surpassed only by Iraq, Syria, Mexico, and the Philippines. Even Afghanistan, a country ravaged by conflict throughout the last 20 years, has fared comparatively better with 81 journalist deaths in the last two decades. What makes these statistics even more alarming is the fact that there is no declared war or war-like situation in Pakistan. Yet, the situation for press freedom is quite critical.

Journalists in Pakistan face multiple threats which include intimidation, violent attacks, and enforced disappearance, as in the case of Sami Ibrahim and Imran Riaz Khan. The latter went missing on May 12 and his whereabouts were unknown at the time these lines were being written. In addition to that, media persons also face legal harassment and economic pressure.

“The level of threats facing Pakistani media, from print to digital, is unprecedented due to the lack of any safety coverage - life insurance in recent times despite the so-called democratic order in place since 2008,” says Mazhar Abbas, veteran Urdu journalist based in Karachi.

Undoubtedly, the situation was not any better before the 2018 general elections as Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) government had introduced controversial laws like Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), empowering law enforcement agencies to aggressively pursue instances of the breach of expression rights and media freedom. Yet, Pakistan press came under severe threat in the regime of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). From August 2018 to April 2022, journalists in Pakistan experienced abductions, attacks, and even torture. Prominent media figures like Matiullah Jan, Asad Toor, and Absar Alam were among those targeted for their critical reporting. Moreover, the government attempted to control the media by amending and introducing the PECA Ordinance of 2020, aiming to consolidate its grip over the entire media landscape.

Although the government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) loosened some restrictions on media, the situation did not become much better, especially for the journalists as they continue to face threats to their life and security. In fact, it is in the PDM regime that the reporter Arshad Sharif was killed mysteriously in Kenya in October 2022.

Sadly, the threats faced by journalists are not confined to physical harm alone. The reporters are not only tortured and killed in mysterious ways, but it has also become a fact that they hardly get justice while the perpetrators get away with their crimes easily. This is highlighted by cases such as the murder of Nazim Jokhio. He was reportedly murdered in cold blood by a PPP lawmaker at the latter’s farmhouse in Malir, Karachi in November 2021. After widespread public outrage, the legislator was at first arrested and tried in anti-terrorism court. But later the case was transferred to session court which acquitted the perpetrator along with his four servants after a settlement with the legal heirs of the slain journalist. The case of Nizam Jokhio falls into the same category as rightly depicted in ‘No One Killed Jessica,’ an Indian film.

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