How can the government protect journalists?

At least 33 journalists were murdered for their journalism work in Pakistan during the past six years. What can the government do to protect journalists and their families?

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The human rights ministry said Friday it had forwarded to the National Assembly a bill seeking protection for journalists and people employed by the media. According to Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari, the proposed legislation — titled “Protection of Journalists & Media professionals Bill 2020” — was presented after due process and consultations with media personnel.

“The Ministry of Human Rights has sent the Protection of Journalists & Media Professionals Bill 2020 forward in accordance with the government procedures and after getting inputs from various journalists/bodies,” Mazari wrote on Twitter, sharing a copy of the proposed legislation.

She added that the bill had been initiated by Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry earlier when he was minister of information and broadcasting.

As per the copy shared by Mazari, the bill seeks to “promote, protect and effectively ensure the independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of journalists and media professionals”.

Read more: Pakistan Among World’s Poorest Countries To Provide Justice to Slain Journalists

It further mentions that it was “the responsibility of the State to safeguard the right to freedom of expression”, in line with Article 19 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as per the proposed legislation, “includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media”.

It also notes that the safety and independence of journalists was “the requirement of any democratic society” in light of the “specific attacks on journalists and media professionals”.

The proposed legislation also underscores the need “to establish a legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of journalists and media professionals”.

Violence against journalists in Pakistan

It is important to mention here that at least 33 journalists were murdered for their journalism work in Pakistan during the past six years, according to Freedom Network.

The new report titled ‘100% Impunity for Killers, 0% Justice for Pakistan’s Murdered Journalists: Crime and Punishment in Pakistan’s Journalism World’ issued a ‘Pakistan Impunity Scorecard’ which reveals frightening statistics.

Read more: Pakistani journalists begin march to Line of Control

According to the Pakistan Impunity Scorecard, a total of 32 FIRs were registered for the murder of 33 journalists during the period 2013-19, of which police could file challan (charge-sheet) in only 20 cases — or in 60 per cent of cases. Out of 33 cases, the courts declared only 20 cases fit for trial (60pc) of which prosecution and trial was completed in only six cases — only 18pc.

In these six cases, the killer was convicted in just one case but escaped punishment after successfully overturning the conviction at the appeal stage after which the family of the murdered journalist abandoned its pursuit for justice for lack of resources.

The above statistics include the cases of seven journalists murdered in Pakistan in the past one year (between November 2018 and October 2019). According to the report, FIRs were registered in all seven cases, but charge-sheet was filed by the police in only four cases (57pc).

In short, none of these seven cases reached the critical stage where the courts could hand a verdict and provide justice. According to Freedom Network, the impunity enjoyed by the killers of journalists in Pakistan is one of the highest in the world.

Read more: Azaadi March: Female journalists Treated As ‘Aliens’ By JUI-F Protestors

Meanwhile, International Press Institute (IPI) in a statement released in connection with the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists said that democracies around the world were failing to protect journalists and investigate killings and crimes against them.

According to the Vienna-based IPI’s Death Watch, as many as 40 journalists lost their lives over the last year. Of these, 25 were lost their lives in targeted attacks in retaliation for their work, frequently in response to reports exposing corruption or the activities of crime syndicates. Eight journalists died while covering conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen and one was killed covering civil unrest.

Six journalists died while on assignment; two in Somalia and one each in Brazil, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. The majority of targeted killings took place in the Americas, where 18 journalists were killed.

An analysis of the Death Watch data shows that over the years the majority of the targeted killings have taken place in democracies and impunity for such crimes remains high in these countries.