A day before he was shot at in Lahore, journalist Raza Rumi contacted Amnesty International to register reports that his name was on a Pakistani Taliban hit list. He said he was not sure if the threat was real or if it was just an attempt at silencing him. He knew the next day, March 28 that the threat was very real. While he escaped, his driver was killed and his guard was paralyzed after being shot.
Amnesty International’s new report titled “A Bullet has been chosen for you, attacks on journalists in Pakistan” to be released on Wednesday, interviewed 100 journalists and media workers and is based on extensive field research into over 70 cases. It examines several recent cases where journalists have been targeted for their reporting by a range of actors. According to Amnesty International’s research, at least 34 journalists may have been killed as a direct consequence of their work since democratically-elected government was restored in Pakistan in March 2008.
The report says journalists face a range of threats in Pakistan including from civil and military state organs such as the police and security forces. But no state actor is more feared by journalists than the Directorate for Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Amnesty’s investigation of cases shows journalists are particularly at risk of harassment and abuse if they expose security lapses by the military,
its alleged links to armed groups, human rights violations by the security forces in Balochistan and northwest Pakistan or work for foreign media outlets considered by the state to be hostile to Pakistan.
Such allegations against the ISI have been refuted and Colonel Zulfiqar Bhatty, told Amnesty International that members of the public can write to the Adjutant General of the armed forces regarding any complaints about the ISI or other military institutions.
In the case of the attack on Hamid Mir, the report said it was not in a position to assess claims of his family but the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told Amnesty that Mr Mir had frequently contacted them about death threats over the last several years he was receiving from individual and groups he believed were associated with the ISI.
CPJ said it had not received any video or other message from Mr Mir to the effect that the ISI or specific individuals should be responsible if he were to be killed. The report said since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif formed the government on June 5, 2013, at least eight journalists have been killed across Pakistan as a direct result of their work and this includes five journalists killed in 2014. Of the 34 killings since 2008, 9 took place in north-western Pakistan (the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), and 13 took place in Balochistan.
Amnesty investigated 74 cases for this report, and in only two of these have the perpetrators been convicted – Wali Khan Babar and the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Of these 74 cases, police or other authorities carried out an initial investigation in 36 cases, and in a handful of incidents victims or their families received security protection, compensation or other assistance from the state.
The report documents firsthand accounts of harassment, abduction, torture and attempted killings at the hands of the state and non state perpetrators. The facts and the circumstances of these abuses vary from case to case and in different regions journalists face different types of risks. However, all these abuses share the common pattern of seeking to silence the media and stifle public debate, the report said.
Although six men were arrested for the attack on Rumi, impunity is the norm for attacks on journalists and in the overwhelming majority of cases investigated in the report, Amnesty said the Pakistani authorities failed to carry out prompt, impartial, independent and thorough investigations into human rights abuses against journalists or to bring those responsible to justice. The report says that Pakistan has a reputation for having a fearless and vibrant media.
Despite this or perhaps because of it, it is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, judging by the frequency and range of harassment and abuse they face. CPJ ranked Pakistan as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists while Reporters Without Borders placed Pakistan 158th out of 167 countries in the World Press Freedom Index for 2014. Khuzdar, the second largest city in Balochistan has been named by Reporters Without Borders as one of the ten most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Amnesty’s research says at least six journalists were killed here since 2008.
Journalists in Pakistan confront a range of “red lines” a general term used by media workers to describe the invisible boundaries of public discussion accepted by state and non state actors in the country’s media landscape. Amnesty International says in the report that it has received credible allegations of harassment, abduction, torture and killing of journalists perpetrated by a range of state and non state actors. These include but are not limited to the ISI, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM), the Lashkar e Jhangvi and its associated group the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al Qaeda linked groups and ethnic Baloch armed groups both pro and anti state.
The report says the failure of the authorities to address this impunity effectively sends a signal that any individual or group with the means and intent can literally get away with murder. The harassment and abuses faced by journalists comes about as a result of their legitimate work, the report points out. However, as much as journalists seek to discharge their professional duties with impartiality, these abuses have inevitably had a chilling effect on freedom of expression, pushing journalists to resort to self censorship in order to protect themselves.