South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, condemns the increasing attacks on journalists, including the removal of Pakistan’s prominent journalist Hamid Mir from anchoring his prime time show on Geo News Network. This is a tumultuous moment for press freedom in Pakistan, as journalists continue to face an onslaught of attacks and arrests with many similar incidents happening in recent months.
Last week, Pakistani journalist and vlogger Asad Ali Toor sustained severe injuries when he was attacked and tortured by unknown assailants at his residence. The following day, journalists organized several protests outside the press clubs of their respective cities, including at the Press Clubs of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and Hyderabad, condemning the attack on Asad and demanded that all journalists must be allowed to do their job which is to uncover truth and that the government should prosecute all crimes against journalists and ensure protection for journalists.
During the protest, eminent journalist Hamid Mir, host of the show Capital Talk of the Geo News Network, along with other journalists spoke boldly against the military establishment in response to the Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry’s allegation on BBC’s Hard Talk accusing journalists of fabricating attacks to claim immigration to other countries and that being a problem for the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Mir condemned this statement and spoke outright implying the involvement of the Pakistan military in the recent attacks and that it was the Military personnel that owned assets abroad, and not journalists. A Twitter trend of #ArrestHamidMir began the following day and Hamid Mir was barred from hosting his popular talk show. All journalists of Pakistan, including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), has slammed Geo News and called for accountability for banning Mir from hosting the show and has condemned the attacks on media and journalists by non-democratic forces.
Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index – 2021 and in 2020, Pakistan ranked ninth on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) annual Global Impunity Index, with at least 15 killings of journalists unresolved since 2010.
Journalists who publish or report against the military in Pakistan are subjected to intimidation, harassment or arrest, disrupting their right to express themselves without fear. Through the attacks on journalists and abridging the freedom of speech, the Government of Pakistan and the relevant authorities have made it impossible for journalists to practice their profession. SAHR reiterates that journalists cannot be attacked for doing their jobs.
SAHR notes that the National Assembly has tabled the very first Journalists Protection Act, and the Sindh Assembly has passed its provincial Journalists Protection Act against threats and harassment in the line of duty. However, no measures have been taken so far to punish the elements that intend to harm journalists and prevent them from doing their job. Further, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Pakistan Bar Council have expressed grave concern and rejected the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) Ordinance 2021 that the federal government intends to impose and called it “media martial law.”
SAHR believes that Hamid Mir should be reinstated and not victimised for protesting against attacks on journalists. Further, the Government should launch effective investigations into all cases of violence against journalists. Intimidation and attacks on journalists must be stopped immediately and all attackers must be held accountable. Laws that promote media freedom should be promulgated and the government should not impose Ordinances that have been widely rejected by rights bodies and the journalist community in Pakistan.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,
Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy
Dr. Roshmi Goswami