Authorities must stop stifling dissent, and instead protect the media, says Amnesty International

A recent series of attacks and growing pressure on journalists who criticise the Pakistan government is a cause for serious concern, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have said in a joint statement.

Pakistani journalists have long faced serious obstacles to their work, including harassment, intimidation, assault, arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction, and death. In recent months, violent attacks on journalists have increased dramatically.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The frequency and audacity with which journalists are being attacked in Pakistan is appalling. The Pakistani authorities should bring those responsible for these attacks to justice and ensure that all journalists can do their jobs without fear of intimidation or reprisals.”

Dinushika Dissanayake, South Asia deputy regional director at Amnesty International, said: “If the authorities are committed to upholding their human rights obligations, they must take decisive steps against censorship, harassment and violence against journalists. For that, continued impunity must be dismantled.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan

The organisations are calling on the Pakistan government to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into recent attacks, and ensure those suspected of criminal responsibility are promptly and fairly prosecuted. The government should also rescind official policies that protect the authorities from criticism.

In 2020, Pakistan ranked ninth on the Committee to Protect Journalist’s annual Global Impunity Index, with at least 15 unsolved killings of journalists since 2010.

Sam Zarifi, secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists, said: “It is disturbing to see the space for dissent and providing information of public importance rapidly shrink in Pakistan, with journalists as well as human rights defenders particularly at risk of censorship, physical violence, and arbitrary detention.”

Journalists under attack

Asad Ali Toor

On May 25 2021, journalist Asad Ali Toor was assaulted by three unidentified men who forcibly entered his apartment in Islamabad. They bound and gagged Toor, before severely beating him. Toor said they identified themselves as being from a security agency, interrogated him about the “source of his funds,” and took away his mobile phone and other electronic devices. The government ordered an investigation into the incident. On May 29, the news channel Geo “suspended” Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s best-known television talk show hosts, after Mir spoke at a protest in solidarity with Toor.

Absar Alam

On April 20, an unidentified assailant shot and wounded Absar Alam, a television journalist, outside his house in Islamabad. Alam has been a prominent critic of the government.

Matiullah Jan

On July 21 2020, an unidentified assailant abducted journalist Matiullah Jan in Islamabad the day before he was to appear before the Supreme Court for allegedly “using derogatory/contemptuous language and maligning the institution of judiciary.” Jan was released after a few hours. He alleged the abduction was an attempt to intimidate him. A criminal case was registered for Jan’s abduction, but no suspects have been arrested.