The Freedom Network has revealed in its annual report for 2022 that 96% of journalist killings in Pakistan have not been convicted. The report argues the impunity enjoyed by killers of journalists is “near-complete”, claiming that in cases where journalists had informed their employers or the authorities of threats to their lives, the system had failed to prevent the murders.
Freedom Network is a Pakistan-based human rights group that aims to defend press freedom and freedom of expression. The organization released its Annual Impunity 2022 report, titled: “The Killing Fields: No Justice for Pakistan’s Murdered Journalists.” The report was launched ahead to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which falls on November 2.
The report argues that at least 53 journalists were murdered in Pakistan between 2012 and 2022, and of these, the perpetrators were convicted only in two cases, which accounts for 4%. In the remaining 96% of the cases, the system failed to deliver justice to the slain journalists and their families.
“This open-ended impunity for crimes against journalists and media in Pakistan is taking an ugliest shape and latest killing of under-threat journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya reminds us how stronger perpetrators of crime and press freedom predators are getting”, the Executive Director of Freedom Network, Iqbal Khattak, said.
Khattak further said that even though the Pakistani government has made and enacted laws for the safety of journalists on the federal level and in Sindh, these steps are nothing more than window dressing – journalists in Pakistan remain as vulnerable as ever.
The report also exposed blindspots in Pakistan’s legal system that made it difficult for the families of slain journalists to acquire justice. It said the police failed to produce challans in many cases, killing the chances of justice in its early stages.
Khattak said the laws protecting journalists must be strictly enacted on the federal level and in Sindh. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan also need to pass laws to protect journalists and freedom of expression in their territories.
The report found that of the 53 journalists murdered in Pakistan between 2012 and 2022, the highest fatalities were reported in Sindh (30%), followed by Punjab (26%).
Unidentified assailants constituted the greatest threat to journalists in Pakistan, with 15 of the 53 slain journalists murdered at the hands of unknown killers. Organized crime and militant groups were the second and the third most dangerous threats to a journalist, respectively. In two cases, women journalists were murdered by their husbands after they refused to quit journalism.
The report further revealed that more than half of the slain journalists did not inform their respective media houses or the government authorities of any threats to their lives. Less than 10% of the journalists mentioned threats to their lives, but even in cases where warnings were available, the system failed to protect these journalists. “These were preventable deaths”, the report lamented.
The report regretted that media employers, on whose behalf the journalists had assumed risks to their lives, never became involved in getting justice for the slain journalists. In over two-thirds of cases, the media employers distanced themselves, and the bereaved families of the slain journalists were left to seek justice.
Another bombshell finding was that almost one in five murdered journalists did not get justice because the police failed to complete the investigation, which killed the cases before they could reach the court. Furthermore, less than half the cases reached the court and were declared for trial. This “indicates that for every second journalist murdered, the race for justice ends at this early stage”, the report said.