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EDITORIAL: Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Murtaza Javed Abbasi informed the Senate the other day that as many as 42 journalists were killed in the country over the past four years. Unlike the previous decade when the State was at war with the violent extremists, this was a period of relative peace. Yet so many media persons have been killed while covering what should be routine matters related to governance and national security.

Many others have been subjected to beatings, abductions and torture under detention. This shows why the International Union of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have constantly been describing Pakistan as one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.

According to the information ministry’s data, 15 of the slain journalists were from Punjab, 11 from Sindh, 13 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and three from Balochistan.

And as regards bringing the killers to justice, only seven suspects were arrested in Punjab, out of which two were out on bail while eight were on the run. In Sindh, four suspects are in police custody and seven facing trial. In KP, two suspects have been acquitted while four are being tried and one has absconded. In Balochistan, two suspects have escaped, one faces trial, and another is under investigation. So far, only one accused has been sentenced, probably, because he had acted on his own. Considering the way things are in this country, eventually all others will walk free protected by those with power and influence over the investigation agencies.

There is the example of the killing of a high profile journalist Arshad Sharif in mysterious circumstances. His distraught mother could not even file the first information report (FIR) despite the fact that under the law the police are duty-bound to register the FIR as stated by the complaint.

Failure of the system to hold the offenders to account only emboldens those resorting to extreme measures to control the media. Discreditably for them, when in opposition political parties present themselves as defenders of media freedoms, but when in power they use all sorts of devices to suppress critical voices. Worse still, they look the other way as journalists are intimidated and even murdered for their work.

Those who have been killed in the line of duty or suffered violence and indignities in different forms either had embarrassed politicians with their professional work, especially in the feudal belt, or crossed arbitrary redlines drawn by the powers that be. It has been constant struggle between the journalistic community along with civil society for greater freedom of expression and power elites seeking control over the media. All those resorting to violence to undermine media freedoms must be held to account.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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