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Journalists’ Attackers Face 'Shockingly High' Impunity

Pakistan David Griffiths Amnesty International
David Griffiths is the South Asia Director for the global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International. He is one of the authors of a new report finding that journalists in Pakistan are under siege from armed groups, political parties and intelligence services.

In an interview with RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique, Griffiths said that a "shockingly high degree of impunity" for the perpetrators of violence against journalists in Pakistan is the result of the state's failure to investigate journalists’ deaths and threats against them thoroughly.

RFE/RL: How would you describe the overall situation for journalists in Pakistan: is it right to call it the most dangerous country for journalists?

David Griffiths: That's a good question and it's not one that we set out to answer in our report as such. I think there are three things that we would really highlight. The first thing to say is that the journalists are under attack from all sides in Pakistan at the moment. The second is that for those who want to carry out violence against journalists, they can be pretty confident that they will not be brought to justice and that they can get away with it. Thirdly, the Pakistani government needs to take responsibility to investigate cases independently, impartially, and thoroughly, no matter who carries them out.

RFE/RL: Your report says that 34 journalists were killed in Pakistan since 2008. Which parts of the the country are particularly dangerous for journalists?

Griffiths: Journalists are at risk across Pakistan. They are at risk from many different directions. Our report specifically focuses on three geographical areas that we have assessed to be perhaps the most dangerous:

[The southern city of] Karachi, where journalists are often caught between different competing interests, different groups seeking to influence the media's coverage through violence against journalists.

Secondly, in the northwest of Pakistan many journalists are caught between the military and armed insurgent groups. [In the southwestern province] of Balochistan journalists face attacks from both pro- and anti-state Baluch groups and from the military as well.

RFE/RL: Your report describes in detail the impunity that exists for the perpetrators of violence against journalists. How big a challenge is it?

Griffiths: We investigated 74 cases and perpetrators were brought to justice in only two of those cases. So there is a shockingly high degree of impunity. We have seen a consistent failure of the state -- even to investigate the harassment, abuse, and violence against journalists. In around half of the cases we investigated, the police didn't even carry out an initial inquiry.

So there is a failure on the part of the state to investigate thoroughly, impartially, and independently. We have seen that this problem is particularly acute when the perpetrators of the alleged crime are state actors, be that with the ISI (Inter-Services-Intelligence), military or the police.
RFE/RL: Recently, prominent Pakistani television presenter Hamid Mir accused the ISI of being behind an assassination plot to kill him. What is your assessment of Mir's claims?

Griffiths: What's really important in the case of Hamid Mir is for the state to carry out a proper, thorough, independent, and impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack on Hamid Mir's life. It is not for us to speculate. Hamid Mir himself suggested before the attack that he was under threat from the ISI.

But the nature of his reporting meant, in our assessment, that he was at risk from a number of different actors. We can't rule out the movement of the Pakistan Taliban, for example.
RFE/RL: In the case of the 2011 murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, have you been able to speak to people now serving in the military over allegations about the military's involvement in his killing?

Griffiths: It is a very significant landmark case and it is one of the cases that we have focused on in our report. What really is key in the case of Saleem Shahzad is that the government did establish a high-level investigation under intensive public pressure both within the country and internationally.

But despite that pressure and the inquiry looking at the alleged role of the security forces in the disappearance and killing of Saleem Shahzad, still nobody has been brought to justice. So this just underlines the problem of impunity.

RFE/RL: Thank you.