Coming months are more hard for journalists in Pakistan:Experts
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Coming months are more hard for journalists in Pakistan – Experts

PESHAWAR: Freedom Network, an organization working on press freedom in Pakistan, in its annual report said that media freedom has been severely constrained during the past one year as journalists have been threatened by state and non-state actors. 

The report says more than 200 cases have been filed against pressmen and bloggers by the state in the past one year in Pakistan. 

Every year on May 3rd, journalists’ rights and protection is celebrated worldwide. However, experts and journalists suggest that with the recent increase in attacks on media personnel and restrictive laws, concerns about freedom of expression are consistently growing in Pakistan.

The Freedom Network fears that there would be further crackdowns on pressmen in the future had raised concerns and fear among the journalists in Pakistan especially those based in militancy suffered tribal districts of erstwhile Fata. 

Tribal Union of Journalists(TUJ) of merged districts president and senior journalist Qazi Fazlullah says as compare to rest of the country, reporters based in merged tribal districts that share border with Afghanistan would be more exposed to danger in the coming months. He says non-state actors have geared up their attacks on police and security forces in tribal areas that also spread a wave of fear among journalists.

“Around 60 percent tribal journalists from ex-Fata have already migrated from their home towns but their life is still in denger. Pakistan is not a safe country for journalists as several journalists are gunned down in Islamabad,Karachi and other cities in Pakistan in the past months”, Qazi says.

TUJ president says that 14 tribal journalists have lost their lives in militancy and target killings while homes of several tribal journalists  destroyed in militancy and military operations in erstwhile Fata. 
He adds that reporters are also being threatened based in Peshawar, Islamabad and Karachi.

Qazi expresses that terrorists have increased their attacks in the past moths shows that they have been regrouped in Ex-Fata and the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He says a judge was recently kidnapped in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a day light with gun point which indicate that the non-state actors have presence and organized in Pakistan. 

Qazi Fazlullah says not only tribal journalists but their families are also in danger. He says militants through a written pamphlet had warned tribal journalists that refrain from security forces and police. He added that Taliban warned journalists in district Khyber and Waziristan that their families would also be targeted if they not obey their instructions.

Qazi says terrorists want to use media as their mouth piece to  propagate their version and spread fear and chaos. 

“I can go underground for some time to avoid being attack but how I can protect my school-going children who are expose to threat”, says Qazi Fazlullah. He added that they had left their hometowns in ex-Fata but still vulnerable. 

Qazi urges journalists to minimize their mobility and report carefully so that their protection could be assured for some extent. 

Gohar Ali Khan, a senior journalist and provincial coordinator for Freedom Network(FN) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stated that their organization collected data from May 23 to April 23,2024, covering journalists’ rights, violence, threats, cases and other issues. He highlighted that during this period, four journalists were killed in May and April alone, two from Punjab and two from Sindh.

He says over the past one year, 104 cases are filed against journalists for murder, attempted murder, abduction and harassment, indicating an escalating threat to journalists in Pakistan.

The Freedom Network report also expressed concern about the Personal Data Protection(PDP) and e-safety bills approved by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led government in July 2023 and upcoming legislation. 

Gohar Ali Khan says that if these bills become law could pose a danger to journalists who produce content for social media. He says social media users will be subject to authority and could be prosecuted for content-related decisions which would be dangerous in the coming months. 

Senior journalist Haq Nawaz Khan affiliated with The Washington Post from Pakistan emphasizes that freedom for journalists and bloggers is shrinking day by day at the governmental, state and societal levels.He says limitation and restriction on freedom of expression is illegal and violation of fundamental human rights.

“The difficulty is that criticism for reform is not acceptable to the state, governments and religious political groups. We also disagree with some of social media content but if someone criticizes within the law and constitution it should be tolerated.” Haq Nawaz expresses.

He adds that the role of the media is like a bridge between the people and the government which keeps the government informed about people’s issues and the people informed about government policies.
“If criticism of the policies is made on social media and action is taken against them it cannot be called a democratic government.”He maintains.

Similarly, Arif Yousafzai, a senior journalist based in Peshawar, acknowledges that taking action against journalists in Pakistan is nothing new for reporters in Pakistan. Yousafzai adds he is the witness of many violence incidents against journalists during his career.

“The issue is that in Pakistan, every government does not become autonomous or according to public desires and ‘dishonest rulers’ resort to media restrictions to save themselves.”Arif Yousafzai accuses.

However, Yousafzai says social media’s unrestricted role in Pakistan is not productive and support regulating the social media contents, insisting that journalists’ opinions should be included in the lawmaking process. 
He says, “Governments cannot even leave aside their own laws of their choice because we do not trust them, otherwise, they will enact legislation to save themselves.”

It is noteworthy that according to the Reporters Without Borders’ 2023 report, there has been an improvement of 7 degrees in the freedom of expression index in Pakistan. 
According to the report, Pakistan ranks 150 out of 180 countries, the country where reporters are threanted for freedom of express. 

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