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Pakistani Press Freedom

By Francesca Marino (ANI) | Updated: Jun 18, 2019 19:07 IST

Islamabad [Pakistan], Jun 18 (ANI): Muhammad Bilal Khan was 22 when he was killed by 'unidentified' people in Islamabad.
Killed, like many others before him, because he was a blogger and a freelance journalist well known for criticising the country's powerful military and the spy agency (ISI).
Few days before another journalist from the Pakistani daily The Dawn escaped an attempt by ISI to take him-- his fault was having a coffee with a foreign diplomat.
In the past fifteen days, a television show hosted by one of the most respected Pakistani journalist, Najam Sethi, has been closed overnight without any explanations.
Followingly, a note has been issued by the government forbidding any media from cracking jokes or doing satire on a certain list of 'sensitive' topics. Media, electronic and printed, have also been told not to cover the protests of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, the protests of Balochs and in general everything that goes against the narrative promulgated by the Pakistani Army and the government itself.
Last month, Marvi Sirmed, a well know defence analyst, was targeted via social media and threatened of death. No First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against the culprits, while her house has been ransacked twice by the usual 'unidentified' suspects.
Gul Bukhari, another journalist and blogger, was taken last year after being accused of anti-state activities. Similar incidents happened with Cyril Almeida from The Dawn, who recently won a prestigious journalism prize. Same for Taha Siddiqi, who narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt and was forced to leave the country. A long list of journalists, author and scholars, including Ayesha Siddiqa, have similar stories.
The list of journalists who have been victims of attacks and forced to emigrate or live under protection is long and ranges from prestigious names like those of Raza Rumi to dozens of less famous but equally brave local journalists. The list of those who have remained and are no longer able to do their jobs is even longer. As well as the list of those who have quietly resigned as director or editor and started teaching or write only on 'neutral' subjects.
According to the latest report by the Commission for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), said that the situation of the press and media in Pakistan is now more than alarming and manifests itself in increasingly insidious and more difficult ways to fight.
The number of journalists killed, compared to the last few years drastically dropped, is true, but it is not good news as it seems. Because the state uses other, less flashy systems to intimidate the representatives of press and media.
In another sense, is following the same strategy used to manage political power: apparent democracy, closely controlled by the military. Being accused of anti-state activities has now become a classic of intimidation. Not only for activists, including the most prominent ones, but it is also difficult to make disappearance into thin air, along with the journalists. Almost all the major exponents of the press and the media have received direct or indirect threats from the ISI and are forced to live under escort and practically prisoners in their homes.
Continuing to write and live in the country requires a great deal of courage. The sword of Damocles that hangs on the heads of journalists and editors is the accusation of blasphemy or of activities against the state. Such accusations can lead straight to jail for years and years or even to death.
Thus, according to the CPJ report, a good seventy per cent of journalists now censure themselves because they feel more 'safe'. But no one feels really safe, no one can guarantee their own safety or that of their family.
Things at present are destined to get worse. Not only for journalists, unfortunately, but also for all Pakistani civil society.
The last few months have marked acceleration towards the chaos prophesied years ago by Ahmed Rashid and have highlighted in an increasingly incisive way the lethal games played by the so-called strong powers inside and outside the country.
Above all, they have focused the spotlight on the now inevitable decline of politics, or at least of official politics, which seems increasingly destined to have a purely the ceremonial role, while the real games are played behind the scenes, between the secret services and the Army.
With a government sadly reduced now to a mere facade, the economy in disarray and undeclared civil war in progress in the border regions, the democratic regime imposed by Washington at the end of 2007 is de facto reduced to a pale ghost.
There is nothing democratic about living under the constant threat of being tortured and killed, as not only journalists but also Pakistani professors, activists, intellectuals and students know very well. There is nothing democratic about living in a country de facto in the hands of the military and intelligence.
The control of the military and ISI on information is now increasingly stringent and concerns the whole country. When intimidation and threats are not enough, the action is taken at the root.
Television channels are darkened, the frequencies change continuously. Journalists and foreign correspondents, if they want to stay in the country, are forced to follow the rules under threats of expulsion or worse. Democracy in Pakistan, as their citizens well know, can be a hundred times worse than dictatorship. Maybe we should start thinking about it.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are strictly those of the author) (ANI)