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Strangled Watchdog

By: Ahmed Zulqurnain 

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “Democracy is a rule of the people, for the people, and by the people”. Ironically, Pakistan is also an iterator of being a democratic country with a population of more than 230 million where fundamental rights of citizens are enshrined in theory. Article 19 of the constitution of Pakistan allows freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press. The free press serves as a pillar of democratic society, without which democracy is inevitable. It is the state’s responsibility to make sure that journalists are allowed to do their work freely, providing them workspace so they can expose societal vices. The state must ensure that they are free to fulfill their professional obligations without any fear of reprisal; however, in Pakistan, free press is an alien concept.

Going down the lanes of history, we can find how General Ayub used the press to run propaganda against his rivals. Journalists and newspapers frequently encountered strict media regulations and information suppression, which resulted in limited access to authentic information. General Zia also followed General Ayub’s suit, newspapers were not allowed to talk about the Former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and dissenting voices were marginalized or silenced.

As the saying goes, time may change, but in this context, we can say that time is still where it was 40 years ago. As per the Freedom Networks, since the year 2000, more than 150  journalists and media personalities have been killed in Pakistan. Several renowned journalists like Saleem Shehzad, Daniel Pearl, Mureed Abbas, Murtaza Rizvi, and Arshad Sharif laid down their lives while fulfilling their professional obligations.

Today, in 2023, journalists are experiencing profound challenges, there are multiple examples in front of our eyes.

Arshad Sharif is a renowned journalist, known for his bold reporting on sensitive issues. Sharif, a forthright critic of the state machinery, faced targeted scrutiny, resulting in the filing of an FIR against him. Additionally, he was charged with sedition. Sharif left the country to avoid arrest and was fatally shot in Kenya on October 23, 2022.

Imran Riaz Khan, another acclaimed journalist with more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube, and a vocal critic of the powerful establishment, after the attacks on 9th of May, was abducted by Punjab police. Imran Riaz Khan’s abduction was carried out when he was boarding a plane to leave Pakistan, after six months he was released but his physical health deteriorated. Reports suggest that he’s unable to talk properly as he was beaten badly during his detention.

Shahid Aslam, a reporter for BOL news, was arrested by FIA at the start of the year 2023 as he was accused of being involved in fact-focus leaks, which revealed the assets details of Former Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family. Following the revelations, Aslam was subsequently detained for several days in Adiala Jail and released later.

Gohar Wazir, a local journalist from Bannu, Wazir was abducted while he was shopping in the local market of Bannu. Wazir accused local militants of his abduction. Wazir claimed that during his abduction, the individuals who detained him only agreed to stop torturous actions, after he consented to record a video, promising to discontinue his critical commentary of the military establishment and state-supported militant groups. Additionally, in one of his interviews, he said “They can kill me at any time.” These words explain how journalists are being harassed in Pakistan.

Today, we can see how media houses are being dictated on what to do and what not to do, and how media houses are being used to run propaganda against specific political groups. Journalists like Moeed Pirzada, Sabir Shakir, and Ahmad Norani are forced into self-exile just because they’re against a powerful establishment. There were some complaints from Quetta as the caretaker government and district administration were stopping media workers from covering the political party’s procession. This is a testament to state bias towards one group or the other. Against the backdrop of all this, we shouldn’t be surprised that Pakistan is a low-ranked country in terms of freedom of the press according to Reporters Without Borders and if these things don’t stop then the situation of the press will be the same after forty years.

The writer is a student of English Literature. He can be reached at [email protected]

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the ‘The Dayspring’

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