HRCP on sharp decline in press freedom in Pakistan

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Pakistan presents a sorry picture. According to the global watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, over 60 journalists have been killed in Pakistan, of whom 33 were murdered. In the first four months of 2018, journalists have been targeted for kidnapping, the Islamabad office of Radio Mashaal – the Pashto language service of the US Congress funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty shut down and one of the leading media groups Geo/Jang/The New group facing pressure from the Pakistani Deep state.

In a press release on May 3, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) took “a serious view of the sharp decline in press freedom in the country over the last several months, which has coincided with the emergence of a strong grassroots movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

The HRCP also “censured the recent escalation in press harassment and intimidation, and attempts to curb people’s freedom of expression and their access to information.”

Pointing to two incidents that stand out in this alarming pattern the HRCP noted: “The first concerns the recent ban on Geo TV. That this ban was not sanctioned by PEMRA, the government’s media regulatory body, or by the federal information ministry is cause for serious concern. The second is that several regular English-language columns critical of the skewed relationship between citizens and the state—written against the backdrop of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement—were deleted from newspapers’ online editions. Neither development augurs well at a time when the country is preparing to hold a general election in just under two months.”

Further, “apart from these attempts to muzzle reportage and analysis of sociopolitical developments that should count as instances of ordinary people exercising their constitutional freedom of assembly and expression, there has been little movement on the fate of people who have gone ‘missing’ after having written critically about pro-establishment narratives. On World Press Freedom Day, Pakistan needs to take stock and seriously consider the repercussions of attempting to gag its press when it needs the latter most.”

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