Several human rights watchdogs have expressed grave concerns over the growing number of attacks on Pakistani journalists who criticize the government and called on authorities to probe such incidents promptly and impartially.
The joint appeal by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Commission of Jurists comes amid a spate of blows directed at Pakistan's independent media.
Several veteran Pakistani reporters have left journalism after being threatened. The private Geo TV was forced off the air, and authorities have disrupted the distribution of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest English-language newspaper. Leading columnists have complained that stories deemed to be critical of the army are being rejected by outlets under pressure from the military.
"Recent attacks and growing pressure on journalists who criticize the Pakistan government is a cause for serious concern," the three watchdogs said in a joint statement on June 3, adding that "those suspected of criminal responsibility should be promptly and fairly prosecuted."
Pakistani media workers have long faced grave hardships in their work, including harassment, intimidation, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, and death.
The statement highlighted the case of journalist Asad Ali Toor, who was attacked and beaten in his own home in May by three unidentified intruders. Toor had been charged in September with sedition for comments made on social media “maligning state institutions.” A court later dismissed the charges.
It also mentioned the attacks on television journalist and prominent government critic Absar Alam, who was shot and wounded in April by an unidentified assailant, and Matiullah Jan, who was abducted in July 2020 and released after several hours.
Alam had also been charged with sedition and “high treason” for using “derogatory language” about the government on social media, while Jan was summoned before the Supreme Court for allegedly “using derogatory/contemptuous language and maligning the institution of judiciary.”
Investigations into the cases have made no headway, the statement said.
On May 31, Hamid Mir, Pakistan's most-prominent TV presenter, was banned from his prime-time nightly talk show after he made an emotional speech critical of the military.
“It is disturbing to see the space for dissent and providing information of public importance rapidly shrink in Pakistan, with journalists as well as human rights defenders particularly at risk of censorship, physical violence, and arbitrary detention,” said Sam Zarifi, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists.
Pakistan last year ranked ninth on the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual Global Impunity Index, with at least 15 unsolved killings of journalist since 2010.
The statement urged Pakistani authorities to "conduct prompt, impartial, and effective investigations" into the growing number of attacks on media workers.
“The frequency and audacity with which journalists are being attacked in Pakistan is appalling,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Pakistani authorities should bring those responsible for these attacks to justice and ensure that all journalists can do their jobs without fear of intimidation or reprisals.”