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Pakistani Journalists Protest Outside Parliament

Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida (center) arrives at the High Court to face treason charges in Lahore on October 8.
Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida (center) arrives at the High Court to face treason charges in Lahore on October 8.

As part of a new campaign against large-scale layoffs, increasing censorship, and violence, Pakistani journalists have launched a sit-in protest outside of the country’s parliament.

On October 30, scores of journalists set up a protest camp in front of the national parliament in Islamabad in the hope of attracting the attention of government and lawmakers.

Afzal Butt, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), says journalists in Pakistan are committed to their profession despite threats and violence.

“Our protest aims to highlight the worsening conditions and cruel exploitation journalists in our country currently endure,” he told Deewa Radio. “Many of our colleagues have lost their jobs recently, and they are even unable to feed their families.”

Many Pakistani media organizations recently shut down or fired hundreds of journalists and media workers after the government stopped providing advertisements, which is a major revenue source for many newspapers and television channels.

The mass firings come amid mounting censorship and violence against journalists. Journalist Ehsanullah Sherpao was killed in the northwestern town of Charsadda on October 30. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a global media watchdog, considers Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for journalists where impunity is entrenched.

Opposition lawmaker Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sees a major conspiracy underway to curb press freedom.

“The free and independent press is under attack in our country, be that in the form of censorship or economic murder of journalists,” he told protesters on October 30. “We will raise this issue in the parliament and will also protest in the streets.”

Pakistan’s powerful military and civilian government deny threatening journalists or imposing curbs on the media or freedom of expression.

On October 9, PFUJ, the largest journalist association in Pakistan, protested across the country to decry the “unannounced censorship imposed by state institutions.”

“The new government is ignoring the issue and avoiding confronting those institutions who are systematically trying to silence print and electronic media through coercion, control of advertising, harassment, and even attacks against journalists,” noted an October 2 statement by the PFUJ.