Pakistan dangerous region for journalists
Strangely in December 2020, the Pakistani court ordered the immediate release of four men, including Omar Sheikh, accused of orchestrating kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl.
In Pakistan, journalism has been a discredited pillar of the nation. In Pakistan, there is no news and no journalism. Only partisan politics and favoritism. There has been constant hate spewing across networks.
Pakistan has long been unsafe for journalists. It ranked ninth on the Committee to Protect Journalists 2020 global impunity index, an annual assessment of countries where journalists are regularly killed and the assailants go free. Pakistan is among the top 10 nations in the world in terms of the total number of unsolved murders of journalists. The Committee has ranked Pakistan 9th on this year's Global Impunity Index.
Behind the killing of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif in Nairobi on October 23, the accusation finger indicates the involvement of Pakistan's secret agency ISI which has been a master in the past for such acts of getting someone executed anywhere anytime. Sharif, who was once close to the military establishment, became one of its fiercest critics in 2022 during his tenure in ARY Network.
One fine day, he was taken off air after his show was accused of fanning "anti-military sentiment" on lame excuses. Sharif after leaving the job was kept on the intelligence radar. He filed a petition saying the security forces were violating his fundamental rights. A court in Islamabad asked Pakistan's intelligence agency and police in August to stop harassing Sharif. Police and government sources confirmed at the time that he was being sought in a complaint case but said no action had been carried out to arrest him. Sharif eventually fled the country in August after allegedly receiving death threats over his work. His whereabouts were not known publicly.
The kidnapping of American Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi on January 23, 2002 and subsequent murder on February 1, 2002, has not been forgotten nor has how the Pakistan establishment planned his killing by terrorists.
Daniel Pearl in Karachi, following an investigative lead while working in post-9/11 Pakistan, was committed by several Islamist jihadist groups working in collaboration. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh known as Umar Sheikh, Sheikh Omar Sheik Syed alias Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad a British Pakistani terrorist a member of the Islamist jihadist group Harkat-ul-Ansar or Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in the 1990s, and later of Jaish-e-Mohammed and closely associated with Al-Qaeda, was assigned the task. Sheikh was arrested by Pakistani police on February 12, 2002, in Lahore, in connection with the Pearl kidnapping and was sentenced to death on 15 July 2002 by a special judge of an anti-terrorism court for the murder. Strangely in December 2020, the Pakistani court ordered the immediate release of four men, including Omar Sheikh, accused of orchestrating kidnapping and killing of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Similarly, the Nairobi police have been managed by ISI to cover the incident by describing the case as that of mistaken identity, according to an intelligence expert. Shireen Mazari, a former human rights minister in Pakistan, in his tweet has said "Let there be no confusion, Arshad Sharif was murdered by a sniper bullet to his head. It was not an accident as is now being floated."
In recent years, subsequent governments and other influential powers have curtailed media freedom and threatened journalistic independence in Pakistan. According to reports, between May 2021 and April 2022, at least 86 cases of attacks and violations against media and its practitioners, including journalists, took place in Pakistan. Reportedly, 118 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since the year 2000.
In February 2020, journalist Aziz Memon was murdered in Mehrabpur, Sindh. Shortly before he was killed, he released a video statement in which he allegedly claimed that the "SSP Nowshero Feroz and local political supporters have made his life hell and that his kids have been receiving threats repeatedly."
In 2011, journalist Saleem Shehzad was found dead, 4 days after his story on the PNS Mehran attack surfaced in which he claimed that Al-Qaeda had allegedly penetrated inside the Pakistan Navy.
In 2011, journalist Wali Khan Babar was shot dead for his reporting on crimes in Karachi.
Journalist Javed Chaudhry revealed that "before Saleem Shehzad's death, he had allegedly told his family that if he gets abducted or harmed, then ISI would be responsible for it."
Islamabad has emerged as the most dangerous place to practice journalism in Pakistan with 37 per cent of the violations (32 out of the total of 86 cases) recorded in the federal capital.
Sindh is the second-worst with 27 per cent of the violations (23 cases) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) the third most dangerous with 19 per cent (16 cases).
It is pertinent to note here that most of these killings are linked with reporting on hardcore issues in Pakistan.
(R C Ganjoo is a senior journalist and columnist having more than 30 years experience of covering issues concerning national security, particularly Kashmir. He has worked with several prominent media groups and his articles have been published in many national and international publications.)
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