Journalists and Activists Face Constant Threats in Pakistan

Activists and journalists covering Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face censorship and death.

Two recent incidents highlight the Pakistani government’s struggle with free speech and freedom of the press: The refusal to renew visas of two Indian journalists based in Islamabad and the targeted killing of a renowned human rights defender Rashed Rehman who defended a university lecturer accused of blasphemy.

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Pakistani journalists chant slogans as they march during a protest in Islamabad. Credit: Reuters

It is worth mentioning here that much of the reporting on human rights abuses that has come out of Pakistan’s troubled areas like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent years are by rights activists, foreign correspondents and freelance journalists affiliated with different international media outlets. At the national level the only independent newspaper, the Daily Times, has covered this issue.

However under pressure from authorities, the newspaper has now refrained from such in-depth reporting on human rights abuses and presents news entirely from the perspective of the government establishment due to the silent pressure build by country’s top brasses. While those foreign correspondents willing to report on the ground realities of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are either expelled like Declan Walsh or refused visas similar to Meena Menon of The Hindu newspaper and Snehesh Philip of Press Trust of India.

On the other hand, activists and journalists speaking out against such policies of injustice reporting from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa face grave threats to their security. Those having interaction with foreign correspondents do often receive telephone calls and other forms of pressure to abandon relationship with them.

In recent days when Press Freedom Day was being celebrated at a local hotel in Islamabad, I had the pleasure of meeting an Indian journalist. Soon after, my phone calls were being tapped, giving me reasonable grounds to believe that I may be in imminent danger. Similar complaints were heard from other friends having had interaction with Indian journalists in Pakistan.

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Pakistan’s military establishment, already notorious for suppressing media freedom, as always been blamed for targeting journalists reporting in war zones like Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the early days of the 2013 general election in Pakistan, authorities ordered the expulsion of The New York Times Islamabad bureau chief.

Later in March 2014, renowned TV anchor and Taliban critic Raza Rumi was attacked for his views. In April 2014, Deutsche Welle correspondent Abdul Ghani Kakar was reportedly attacked in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in the same day as Geo TV anchor Hamid Mir.

Such tactics are not only meant to suppress freedom of the press but also challenge the physical security of journalists.

Free-press advocates expressed outrage at the news of the Indian journalists asked to leave Pakistan, saying that Pakistan’s reputation is one of the most inhospitable countries for journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said, “Prime Minister Sharif expressed a strong commitment to improving Pakistan’s press freedom environment in his meetings with CPJ this year, and he should ensure that visas are renewed for both Meena Menon and Snehesh Alex Philip.” Dietz called on Sharif to honor pledges he made to CPJ earlier this year to ease visa restrictions for foreign journalists.

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Kiyya Qadir Baloch is a freelance Baloch journalist associated with the Daily Times based in Islamabad. He reports on foreign affairs, Baloch insurgency, militancy and sectarian violence in Balochistan. Read other articles by Kiyya.