1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

How safe is Pakistan for journalists?

Shamil ShamsSeptember 11, 2015

Two journalists were recently killed in Pakistan despite claims by the government that its military operations have secured most big cities. DW analyzes why Pakistan continues to be an unsafe place for reporters.

A Pakistani journalist flashes victory signs from inside the lockup of a police station after several journalists were arrested for protesting against the Emergency rule and curbs on media outside the Hyderabad Press Club in Hyderabad, Pakistan, 20 November 2007 (Photo: EPA/NADEEM KHAWER +++(c) dpa - Report+++)
Image: picture alliance/dpa

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), have strongly condemned the killings of two Pakistani journalists within a day in the southern city of Karachi.

Aftab Alam, a senior journalist, was gunned down near his home in Karachi on Wednesday, September 9. Alam was employed at Geo TV, which has been facing the wrath of the military and its spy organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), for its critical reporting of the army's involvement in politics.

Just hours earlier, Arshad Ali Jaffery, a 45-year-old Geo TV satellite engineer, was killed by three gunmen in the city. On that same day, Abdul Azam, a journalist working for state television, PTV, was wounded after being shot at in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

"The IFJ and PFUJ are outraged by the attacks … and call for prompt action to arrest those responsible" said a statement released by the journalists' unions on September 10.

A Pakistani policeman stands guard following an attack on Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) opposition party legislator Rashid Godil in Karachi on August 18, 2015 (Photo credit: RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)
Just recently, Pakistani PM Sharif declared Karachi free from "targeted attacks"Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Tabassum

"The incidents are yet another reminder that Pakistan is the most dangerous country for journalists," they added. Both organizations also re-affirmed their calls on the Pakistani government to take decisive steps against ongoing attacks on the media in the South Asian country.

The killings come at a time when the Pakistani government is carrying out a paramilitary operation against "terrorists and criminals" in Karachi. Just recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared Karachi free from "targeted attacks."

Threatened by extremists and government alike

Religious extremists and security forces continue to intimidate journalists in Pakistan. Ghazi Salahuddin, a senior journalist at the Jang Group of Publication, told DW that Pakistani media professionals had to work under very difficult circumstances.

"Many journalists feel scared and threatened. It has become increasingly difficult for them to perform their tasks freely," he said, calling on journalists' unions to ensure that the rights and lives of people working in the media are protected.

According to David Griffiths, Amnesty International's (AI) deputy Asia Pacific director, Pakistan is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. In a report released last year, AI documented 34 cases of journalists being killed in the period from the restoration of democratic rule in Pakistan in 2008 to April 2014.

"This is something authorities must address urgently. A critical first step must be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. This will send a powerful signal to those who target journalists that they no longer have free reign," Griffiths told DW.

Freedom comes with a price

But it is also true that the Pakistani media now enjoy greater freedom to criticize governments, politicians, the country's powerful military and its ubiquitous intelligence agencies. A decade ago, all this was unimaginable. But this "freedom" has come at a price as the country has become more insecure for reporters over the past few years.

Nasir Tufail, a Karachi-based Geo TV journalist, told DW that the Pakistani media were "definitely freer than before," though "not absolutely free."

Tufail says the most perilous issue for Pakistani journalists is to report on issues regarding terrorism and Islamism, and that the reporters who are working on these issues have to be very cautious.

For instance, Tufail says that local and foreign media rely mostly on a few journalists for their coverage of events in the restive northwestern tribal areas of Pakistan. But most journalists cannot even enter these areas; therefore it is impossible to get reliable news about the Taliban and the "war on terror."

Supporters of Pakistan Defense Council, a coalition of Islamic parties, burn a representation of a US flag at rally to condemn the reopening of the NATO supply line to neighboring Afghanistan, in Quetta, Pakistan (Photo: Arshad Butt/AP/dapd)
Experts say the most perilous issue for Pakistani journalists is to report on issues regarding terrorism and IslamismImage: AP

"Most journalists can't even think of going to most parts of Balochistan, where the military is operating against separatists. How can you expect independent reporting from there?" Tufail said.

Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General of the South Asian Free Media Association, also said that both state and non-state elements were against press freedom in Pakistan.

"So many journalists in Pakistan have been killed, yet nobody has ever been convicted for these murders. The recommendations of the judicial commission investigating Saleem Shahzad's murder (allegedly killed by the ISI in 2011) have never been implemented," Alam told DW.