The one common thing that ties the killings of all 83 journalists save one (Daniel Pearl) is that their killers have never been found, prosecuted or punished. However, without invoking legal process, impunity cannot begin to be scaled back
By Adnan Rehmat
By now nearly all related stakeholders — including the national and international communities – have a decent idea about the scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan. We all know, for instance, that reporting is a tough job in Pakistan. The country has been rated the most dangerous place to practise journalism on the planet for two years running — 2011 and 2012 — by Reporters Without Borders.
On the issue of impunity against journalists, the right to exercise freedom of expression, indirect censorship offline and direct censorship online, the country has also consistently ranked amongst the worst performers on these subjects on annual indices of organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article IX, Freedom House, etc.
Looked at from any angle, the scale of impunity against journalists in Pakistan is staggering. According to data provided by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and Intermedia Pakistan, over 2,000 journalists have experienced harassment, intimidation, kidnap, arrest, detention, assault and injury since January 2000. That’s an average of 166 cases every year for 12 years, or 6 cases a month. In the same period, the number of journalists verifiably killed through specific targeting or those who lost their lives in deliberate terrorism-related violence (such as suicide attacks and bomb blasts) while out in the field reporting — in other words, killed in the line of duty — is at least 83. That in itself is an average of 7 journalists killed every year since 2000 or one every two months.
Breaking down the 12-year period under review into the first seven years (2000 to 2006) and the last 5 years (2007 to 2012), the statistics become more menacing. During 2000 and 2006, a total of 18 journalists were killed at an average of 2.5 every year or one about every 5 months. In the last 5 years — from 2007 to end 2012 — the number of journalists killed shoot up to 65. That’s 13 every year or, staggeringly, one every 28 days.
The statistics tell another story when seen in the context of killings every year and regions where the journalists were killed as well as the ways in which they were eliminated. During 2000 and 2007, the worst year for journalists was 2005 when 5 were killed while 4 each were eliminated in 2003 and 2006. But from 2007 to end 2012, no less than 9 have been killed each year with 13 losing their lives in 2007. At least 12 each were killed in 2010 and 2011 and 9 each in 2009 and in the first 11 months of 2012 while 10 were killed in 2008.
The statistics, compiled by Intermedia Pakistan, also show that contrary to belief, Sindh is the most dangerous territory in Pakistan to practise journalism with 23 killed in 12 years, including 17 in the last 5 years. The second worst place to be a journalist is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with a total of 18 killed in 12 years (14 in the last 5) with a close third being Balochistan with 17 journalists killed since 2000. But when measured for the last 5 years (2007-12), Balochistan has been the worst place to be a journalist in Pakistan with all 17 killings coming in these 5 years. The Tribal Areas (Fata) and Punjab are tied for the fourth worst place to practise journalism with 11 killings each — most in both cases occurring in the last 5 years. Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir seem to be the safest places in Pakistan journalism-wise, with no killings (of journalists) recorded there. Even Islamabad ‘scored’ 3 killings.
It is also telling how these 83 journalists were killed. No less than 63 were sought out and shot dead in cold blood. Which means that in four-fifths of the killings, the work of these journalists massively upset the actors who killed them. Of those eliminated, 12 journalists were abducted before being killed and their bodies dumped to be found to serve as warnings. At least 5 of these were brutally tortured in captivity before they were killed. Two were beheaded and one hanged. At least 10 journalists were killed in suicide attacks while they were out reporting on assignment and another 4 in bomb attacks. While these 14 were not direct targets, their killings demonstrate the violent environment in which they work and which poses a major risk to journalists in the field. At least one was target-killed in a bomb attack with his car rigged with explosives designed to go off when he opened it to drive.
The one common thing that ties the killings of ALL these 83 journalists save one (Daniel Pearl) is that their killers have never been found, prosecuted or punished. This is called impunity. “Exemption or freedom from punishment, harm or loss” — the definition of impunity. Not the state, not the media organisations they worked for and not their families have been able to pursue justice, which allows for the killings of journalists — and non-fatal but dangerous and disturbing intimidation and harassment — to go on unabated.
How can this impunity stop? Through a variety of actions and approaches as outlined in other stories of this Special Report in these pages. However, without invoking the legal process, impunity cannot begin to be scaled back. Most journalists killed come from lower income backgrounds because of which after they are killed their families cannot pursue the vagaries of expensive and confusing justice system. And because most of these journalists are not formal, full-time or contracted employees, their media organisations don’t see them as “their” employees and, therefore, don’t pursue justice for them. As for the state — its larger political problems and eroding capacities means it is not pushed when the families and employers don’t, or can’t, be bothered.
The minimum solution is a legal aid mechanism and a safety fund for journalists that can step in as interim measures, for starters, and then become institutionalised. Intermedia Pakistan already runs a safety fund that offers a variety of assistance — from medical aid to counselling and from financial aid to families of journalists killed to relocation in-country for journalists under threat. It is now also launching a media legal aid programme to formally start legal challenges against impunity by taking up cases of journalists in distress in courts through a cadre of lawyers trained in media defence. These are small parts of efforts that are assuming a national profile through an alliance on safety being established and which will soon assume international dimensions when the UN Action Plan on Impunity Against Journalists is launched in Pakistan in early 2013 as part of a global pilot programme in 5 countries.
Adnan Rehmat is Executive Director of Intermedia Pakistan, a national advocacy, research and training organisation. He is a development communications specialist and an analyst on media and political issues
Originally published in The News on Sunday on 9th December 2012