The international rights group Amnesty International said in a 60-page report on Wednesday that the Pakistani authorities have “almost completely failed” to end attacks on journalists.
At least 34 journalists have been killed because of their work since 2008, Amnesty said, adding that the culprits were brought to justice only in one case.
Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty International complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they claimed were connected to the feared military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While some are featured in the report with names changed, others could not be included even under a false name because they feared for their lives.
The spy agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but no serving ISI officials has ever been held to account – allowing it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law. Human rights violations against journalists by the ISI often follow a familiar pattern that starts with threatening phone calls and escalates into abductions, torture and other ill-treatment, and in some cases killings.
Journalists are also victims of human rights abuses by non-state groups across the country. Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political actors across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favourable coverage. In Karachi, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) religious group and others stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical.
In conflict-ridden regions in the northwest and Balochistan province, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and ethnic Baloch armed groups openly threaten reporters with death and attack them in retaliation for seeking to highlight their abuses or not promoting their ideology. Journalists in Pakistan’s heartland of the Punjab have also faced threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked groups.
The report came amid a standoff between the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) and one of Pakistan’s major media groups, GEO Television Network, over an assassination attempt of a TV anchor Hamid Mir.
Pakistan is ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.