KARACHI: In the wake of a sharp spike in attacks on the press ahead of the July 25 general elections, advocacy groups have expressed their concerns over recent events in the country that signal that the media is unable to report freely.
The incidents documented over the past months, which appeared to be aimed at intimidating journalists into silence, include the abduction of columnist Gul Bukhari, attack on senior journalist Asad Kharal, a break-in robbery at journalist Marvi Sirmed’s home, and ISPR Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor accusing journalists of engaging in anti-state activity on their social media accounts.
While transmission of news channels was arbitrarily blocked in parts of the country, distributors were also under pressure to halt the sales of a newspaper.
In a joint letter to caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, Reporters Without Borders and its local partner in Pakistan, Freedom Network, have urged authorities to allow journalists to cover the campaign freely.
“The credibility of the outcome of general elections will be tainted if an enabling environment is not created for journalists to report the elections freely and unhindered,” the letter said.
— Freedom Network (@pressfreedompk) July 2, 2018
In a similar memo to the prime minister, the Committee to Protect Journalists has called upon the caretaker government to take necessary measures to guarantee journalists’ ability to work without fear of intimidation.
Joel Simon, Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote that in order to assure that the elections are transparent and fair, there must be an open media environment that allows Pakistanis to fully enjoy their constitutional right of access to information.
“These incidents foster fear among journalists that prevents them from working effectively. The media should not be punished for reporting statements from politicians or political parties, even when they are controversial,” the letter said.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
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Journalists, civil society members had expressed concern over her abduction