Pakistan’s journalists confront fatal safety risks in the line of their duty and are at the mercy of various types of pressure and extremist groups that threaten, kidnap and even murder them with almost total impunity. Despite the growing violence against journalists in Pakistan, Pakistan has moved up on place on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Index, 2020.
Pakistan moves one place up on CPJ’s index
The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its Global Impunity Index 2020 where it spotlights countries where journalists have been slain and their killers set free.
Pakistan is the ninth worst country on the list, just rising up one place from 2019, when it was the eighth worst country. Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan are on the top of the list, in that order, because of war and political instability.
The report further pointed out three countries,again Pakistan included, where “corruption, weak institutions, and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations into the killings of journalists are all factors behind impunity in Pakistan, Mexico and the Philippines.” In the last 10 years, as many as 15 journalists have been murdered in Pakistan and in none of the cases, killers have been brought to justice.
In the case of Pakistan, there are 15 unsolved murder cases of journalists. According to the CPJ database 61 journalists have been killed in attacks since 1992.
CPJ highlights the Daniel Pearl case
Daniel Pearl (October 10, 1963 – February 1, 2002) was an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal. He was kidnapped and later beheaded by terrorists in Pakistan. Pearl was working as the South Asia Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, based in Mumbai, India.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) April 3, 2020
The Daniel Pearl case was also quoted in the report. On April 2, the Sindh High Court reversed the murder convictions of the four accused for the Wall Street Journal reporter’s murder in 2002. It did not directly affect the Global Impunity Index, pointed out the report, but it was a major legal development.
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had previously been sentenced to death, was found guilty only of kidnapping Daniel Pearl and his sentence was cut down to seven years, which he had already served. The Pearl family and the Sindh provincial government appealed, and the four men remained imprisoned at the end of September. It showed that even resolved legal decisions could be upturned.
Globally, the report said, the number of journalists murdered in reprisal for their work was the lowest in 2019 that CPJ has recorded in any year since 1992. “The reason is difficult to pinpoint, with self-censorship, the use of other tools to intimidate reporters, and the high profile nature of some recent cases potentially playing a role,” it read.
Afghanistan was on the fifth spot, followed by Mexico on the sixth place, Philippines on the seventh, Brazil on the eight and Pakistan on the ninth spot. Bangladesh was the 10th worst country with seven unsolved cases, followed by Russia and India with six and 17 unsolved murder cases of journalists on the Global Impunity Index 2020.
CPJ Index: The report
“In Pakistan, a surprise legal development this year–while not directly affecting the 2020 Impunity Index–showed that even murder cases that were long thought to be resolved can be upended” stated the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ).
On April 2, the Sindh High Court overturned the murder convictions of four men accused in the 2002 killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The decision found Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who had previously been sentenced to death, guilty only of kidnapping Pearl and reduced his sentence to seven years, which he has already served. The Pearl family and the Sindh provincial government appealed, and according to news reports, the four men remained imprisoned at the end of September.
As CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, freeing the men “would be a devastating setback for justice that would also send a dangerous message to Jihadi militants in Pakistan and around the world, who have systematically targeted journalists in the 18 years since Pearl was killed.”
The CPJ criteria
Only the countries with five or more unsolved cases were considered for the index. The CPJ takes into account the cases where it is clear that a journalist has been killed due to his journalistic work, not for any other reason. Journalists killed in combat or while on assignments such as violent protests have not been considered for this index. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained, even if suspects have been identified and are in custody.
The year 2019 marked the lowest number of journalists murdered in reprisal for their work which the CPJ has recorded in any year since 1992. The reason is difficult to pinpoint, the report said, with self-censorship, the use of other tools to intimidate reporters, and the high profile nature of some recent cases potentially playing the role.
The number of murders in 2020 has already exceeded 2019, but is not on track for a major increase. A couple of additional legal developments, the report reads, do not bode well for ending the cycle of violence and injustice.