Dissent Is Not A Crime: Stop Persecuting Journalists

Dissent Is Not A Crime: Stop Persecuting Journalists
The latest attack on Youtuber and journalist Asad Ali Toor, who is often critical of powerful quarters, demonstrates the growing hostility toward dissenting viewpoints in Pakistan. Unidentified assailants reportedly entered his home in Islamabad, the capital of the country, and brutally beat him.

Before this incident, a renowned journalist, and former Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) chairman Absar Alam was injured by a bullet in Islamabad while he was walking in the park. 

In another incident, an unidentified assailant shot and killed a local journalist in Dera Ismail Khan. Last year, journalist Matiullah Jan was kidnapped from Islamabad’s G-6 sector in broad daylight. The attempts to curb dissenting voices have intensified rapidly in recent years.

 The surge in violence against the dissenting voices makes Pakistan unsafe for journalists. According to the World Press Freedom Index of 2020, Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 countries with press freedom. Moreover, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a "White Paper on Global Journalism" enumerated Pakistan along with other four countries as the "Most Dangerous Countries for Practice of Journalism in the World". 

According to IFJ, 138 journalists have been murdered since 1990, making Pakistan a rather unsafe place for journalists.

 Last year, no less than 10 journalists were murdered, and several others faced abduction, intimidation and severe torture while performing their professional duties, according to the report published by the Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE). 

According to the CPNE, the attempts to crush dissenting voices continued throughout the year. The report added that no action was taken against the perpetrators as they enjoy impunity. The legal system too failed to hold those perpetrators accountable.    

 The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI)-led government has on one occasion acknowledged media's role in its victory in the 2018 general election, helping it to form the government. It promised to protect the journalist community after coming into power. Ironically, the government's rhetoric about free press was hollow. It awfully failed in fulfilling its implementation of the manifesto to protect journalists.

 Since the incumbent government came into power in 2018, it has used several justifications to curb critical voices. It was reported that the government used PEMRA as a tool to intimidate and control the media. Moreover, Pemra introduced new rules and regulations to restrict web-Tv and other media services.

Apart from that, fake and fabricated cases against journalists and editors paint a grim picture and scenario of press freedom. Jang/Geo’s Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman’s arrest could be the message for the other editors-in-chief to toe the government line.

Moreover, several media channels expelled journalists in the name of the financial crunch as soon as the PTI assumed power in 2018. Geo News expelled Talat Hussain, who was the host of the program ‘Naya Pakistan’. Because of his critical views of the government and politicians. Renowned journalist Najam Sehti's show was discontinued.

Federal ministers’ bitter remarks towards  journalists who criticized the government policies and way of governance shows the government's unwillingness to bear a difference of opinion. 

Introducing the Pakistan Development Media ordinance is another attempt by the government to control the media. Unfortunately, the government and the state have forgotten that the media is the state's fourth and most important pillar. Silencing and curbing the dissenting voices will further aggravate the situation.

Torturing, assaulting, and threatening the journalist will be of no use. Instead, all the above-mentioned actions are bringing a bad name to the government. Stability of the democratic process and supremacy of the rule of law and good governance cannot be achieved without free media. Allowing journalists to perform their duties in a safe and secure environment will be beneficial for society and the country.