May 3 marks World Press Freedom Day. Media, journalism, and press are all relatable terms and professions. Rightly called the fifth pillar of the state, media is essential in sustaining a state. Freedom of expression is a considerable right in the modern world. It was vehemently proclaimed in the 20th century. After two world wars, human rights were given prevalence, and United Nations was founded to form a charter of human rights—still a long way. In 1993, press freedom was given a formal status through the Declaration of Windhoek. It is the thirtieth anniversary of press freedom. The declaration was a unanimous decision on defining and ensuring freedom. Articles 19, 25C/104, 47/76 A, and 59(I) of the United Nations were promulgated to consolidate the rights of the press. This step was taken to regulate the use of technology, the flow of information, and course, to guarantee the safety of people related to the press. These articles state the freedom of expression, the right to information as a fundamental right and service to humanity, and the flow of ideas or information among nations. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has released its report on the World Press Freedom Index, in which Pakistan ranks 150th and India at 161 out of 180 countries. Pakistan has improved its position from 157th in 2022.
Yet, press freedom is less celebrated in Pakistan, especially after the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) ordinance was passed in 2021. Journalists and media reporters are constantly under threat and are watchful not to offend the “authorities.” In 2020, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issued a “White Paper on Global Journalism” stating that almost 138 journalists were killed in Pakistan from 1990 to 2020. The year 2023 does not present a cheerful sight, as nearly 140 threats were made against journalists between May 2022 and March 2023. This is a 60% increase, where 40% of cases were reported from Islamabad. Almost 25% of cases from Punjab and 23% of patients from Sindh were reported, according to the annual Pakistan Press Freedom report. And nearly five journalists were killed in the year 2023 under review. UNESCO observatory has also presented a list of journalists being killed. This observatory covers the judicial follow-ups about the assassinations of these journalists. Between the years 2006 to 2022, almost no information has been received about 51.8%. Only 2.4% of cases are resolved.
The de facto situation of press freedom in Pakistan is alarming and not a good sight. The de jure position, however, has the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 and Code of Conduct Rules 2010. Besides that, individuals related to the media profession are highly persecuted. With the boom of technology, media is also divided and under more threat from its institute. Information has become rampant, and this excess has made access to information a difficult task. Watching the news is just like “amusing yourself to death.” The fifth generation warfare has made propaganda easy. Misinformation infused with populist backdrops has made facts unreachable. Nevertheless, among all perils of life and hoopla of information, there has been courageous journalism. Stories upon stories are there which reflect exceptional work in the face of all authority and adversary.
Among many names, Hayatullah Khan is to be remembered as the absolute champion. His story inked with blood, shall always be remembered when trustworthy journalism is called for. In 2005, the CIA was looking for an Al-Qaeda spy named Abu Hamza Rabia in alliance with Pakistani; on December 1, Rabia was killed in a drone strike near the village of Haisori, North Waziristan. The missile shrapnels had U.S. designation and name of the “guided missile” AGM-114. Khan, a freelance journalist, published this story in Ausaf, a daily newspaper. He got numerous threats as Pakistan’s Intelligence agency was covering up the story of Rabia’s assassination. Khan received multiple threats and was kidnapped for six months. Afterward, his dead body was found handcuffed with a bullet shot in the head in Miranshah. His wife pursued his case but was killed by her kids in a bomb blast a year later.
Then, we have Saleem Shehzad, who also disappeared on May 29, 2011. Shehzad reported the alleged connections between Al-Qaeda and a few Pakistani naval officers. Abdul Haq Baloch, another name, was murdered on 29th September 2012 in Khuzdar, Balochistan. His murderers were allegedly related to Baluch Musalah Diffa Army (BMDA). Baloch was not giving coverage to their attacks and was threatened many times before his killings.
Rehamtullah Abid is also one of the journalist reporters in Balochistan who was working for Dunya News. He was brutally murdered on 18th November 2012 by unidentified men. Mukarram Khan Atif was the first reporter to be killed in Pakistan. He was a journalist and reporter in Dunya news and provided Pashto language service for Voice of America. He was an anti-Taliban reporter and was murdered by Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Zakir Ali, also known as Shan Dahar, was the bureau chief of the television news channel Abtak. He was also murdered as he exposed the illegal sale of medicines by NGOs to local hospitals. His death took place on January 1, 2014, because of being unattended for nine hours in a nearby hospital in the Larkana district, Sindh.
Another young man named Wali Khan Babar, who was ethnic Pashtun, was killed at 28. Babar was associated with Geo TV and was the first journalist to be killed during fieldwork in 2011. His reporting against drug mafia, target killings, and land grabbers made him visible in the eye of perpetrators. Unfortunately, the five witnesses of his murder were also killed one by one during the investigation.
These are the names of some of the few journalists who fought bravely for the truth to prevail and are still striving for it. In 2010, Umer Cheema was abducted and tortured because of his anti-army stance. In 2014, Hamid Mir was also targeted because he criticized intelligence but survived the bullet injuries. Raza Rumi was also targeted, and his driver was killed. In 2021, Absar Alam and Asad Ali Toor were also targeted. Azaz Syed is a reputed name in the field of journalism. Female journalists have also been the target of persecution. Urooj Iqbal and Shaheena Shaheen were murdered. Moreover, smear campaigns are held against them. They are threatened with doctored pictures and death warnings. Sexual harassment and gender disparity are always a front to fight.
Journalism is a reputable field and press freedom should be prevailed. This day should be in remembrance of martyred journalists and in a vow to protect the lives of working journalists.
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