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EDITORIAL: Harassment, manhandling, even enforced disappearances of journalists continues unabated. In the latest incident Aaj News Assignments Editor Nafees Naeem was picked up by plainclothes men while buying groceries in a market near his home and bundled into a white Vigo.

A senior police officer told his worried colleagues and family that Nafees was not detained at any of the police stations in his jurisdiction. It was only after various media organisations — the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), and Pakistan Union of Journalists (PFUJ) — strongly condemned the abduction and demanded his immediate release that he returned home in the early hours of next morning. The details of his ordeal are not known yet, but the incident once again highlights the nasty reality that those responsible have no qualms about punishing journalists who refuse to toe their line.

As pointed out by the PFUJ, there have been at least nine cases of intimidation of journalists in the form of assault, enforced disappearances, even murder (not long ago, investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad was found tortured and murdered). Then, of course, is the problem of overt censorship. There is no place in any civilised society for use of such draconian tactics to stifle freedom of expression.

The law provides a proper way of dealing with real or perceived transgressions by journalists or other citizens. As the Aaj News management averred following the abduction of its staff member, if a person acts against the law they should be proceeded against in a court of law.

“No agency can be given the right to take a citizen into custody without any charge, FIR, or complaint.” Legal course, though, must not turn out to be another way for harassment like two ARY journalists faced recently. Apparently, too high profile to be abducted or beaten up, they were booked in more than two dozen cases, each, in as many police jurisdictions all over the country for making comments that did not sit well with certain quarters. They, however, seem to have been spared further trouble because all media organisations had rallied to their support.

After the latest outrage, some media persons, including PFUJ President Shahzada Zulifqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi as well as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, have called for holding the perpetrators to account. Theirs may be a wishful thinking in the present environment, but things change too. Pakistan, despite being a weak democracy, does not deserve to be ranked, year after year, by the International Federation of Journalists and other respected media bodies, as the fifth most dangerous place for the practice of journalism.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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