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Pakistan’s War Against the “Spoken Word”

With the current government since April 2022, police and FIA have openly registered cases against journalists on one or the other pretext.

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Pakistan has often been described, by international media, as the most dangerous place for journalists. This has been continuing ever since. Only, in the last few years, several prominent journalists were either assaulted, abducted, or killed. 2011 was perhaps the bloodiest year in this regard when prominent tv anchor, Hamid Mir, was shot multiple times in Karachi and Saleem Shehzad, who worked for Asia Times Online, was abducted from Islamabad and his dead body was found floating in a canal 100 miles south in Punjab. Absar Alam, former Chairman of PEMRA, was shot outside his home in 2020 and many others like independent Vlogger Matiullah Jan who focuses on court reporting and Omar Cheema, an investigative journalist with The News, were picked up and roughed apparently by government agencies.

Read more: Journalists condemn arrest of TV anchor Jameel Farooqui

Facing public pressure and international outcry, commissions of inquiry were set up, often under judges, but despite hundreds of pages of reports, no one was ever found responsible or convicted. The whole thing remained shrouded in mystery.

But now, there is a fundamental change taking place. Previously, while denying responsibility, governments were still apologetic. It was understood that whatever was happening was wrong and indefensible. There was hope! But this moral consciousness has now suddenly died. With the current government since April 2022, police and FIA have openly registered cases against journalists on one or the other pretext. Prominent TV Anchor Imran Riaz Khan (who worked with GNN, Express and Samaa TV) was arrested, handcuffed and put behind bars. Jameel Farooqi, Anchor Bol News, was picked up by police in Karachi, handcuffed and brought to Islamabad. Cases have been registered against other prominent TV Anchors like Arshad Sharif (ARY News), Sami Ibrahim (Bol), Sabir Shakir (ARY News) and many others. Even the Director News of the country’s largest tv network was picked up from his home in the middle of the night. With government ministers, advisers and even media persons often expressing outrage against trends on social media – that often means Twitter – Pakistan in the year 2022 has lost all patience for the very idea of “freedom of expression.” The country is looking for ever new draconian laws to punish dissent and disagreement in the form of spoken or written word – while ignoring the rise of violent crime against citizens, especially women and children that often remain unpunished.

Note: A slightly different version of this article appears in the 2022 September Magazine.

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