With an escalation in attacks and harrasment against journalists in Pakistan, according to the Freedom Network's annual state of the Press Freedom 2021 report, Islamabad has emerged as the riskiest place to practice journalism.
According to The News International, At least 148 cases of attacks and violations against the media and its practitioners, including journalists, took place over the course of one year - between May 2020 and April 2021.
This is an increase by over 40pc from the 91 cases of violations documented in the preceding year (May 2019-April 2020), said the report which has been launched on the eve of the World Press Freedom Day celebrated on 3rd May every year.
"The increase in attacks on the media and its practitioners in Pakistan points to a collective failure of the government and state of Pakistan to honour commitment of upholding peoples' right to speak in a fear-free environment," Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network, said according to The News International.
"Laws must protect journalists instead of silencing them," Iqbal Khattak said. The report, Freedom Network Executive Director said, was dedicated to late IA Rehman who championed the cause of freedom of expression and journalists' safety.
Among the most dangerous places to practice journalism were no longer Balochistan or former tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Islamabad emerged as the riskiest and most dangerous place for journalists in the period under review with 34 per cent of the violations (51 out of total 148 cases) recorded in the federal capital.
The report reveals that "invisible and visible hands have joined forces to tighten the screw on media in Pakistan through various means of coercive censorship, including murders, legal cases, assaults, abductions, detentions and threats, resulting in squeezing the space for freedom of expression and media freedoms resulting in increasing silence and erosion of public-interest journalism."
The top three categories of violations against journalists in Pakistan in the period under review included 27 legal cases filed against them (18%), 26 verbal threats of murder or other dire consequences (17%), and at least 25 cases of arrests or detention of journalists by law enforcement agencies (16%). These three categories of violations - legal cases, threats and detentions - constituted over 60% of the 148 categories of violations against media in Pakistan in the period.
"The most dangerous regions in Pakistan for journalists: Overall, Islamabad emerged as the riskiest and most dangerous place to practice journalism in Pakistan in the period under review with 34% of the violations (51 out of total 148 cases) recorded in the federal capital," The News International reported.
It added: "The State emerged as the biggest threat actor against journalists in the period under review as victims and their families blamed it in a whopping 46% of the 148 documented cases of violations against media practitioners."
Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and more and more scribes are being arrested for criticising the country's Army under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).
PECA, which is seen as the draconian tool to silence free speech, criminalises any speech considered to be "blasphemous" and even those who criticise state institutions.
Recently, a new section was added in PECA stating that those who intentionally ridicule, bring into disrepute or defame the Armed Forces of Pakistan will be sentenced up to two years and be fined over USD 3,018.
Pakistan has been ranked 145th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders's (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.
( With inputs from ANI )
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