Home Politics Press Freedom Under Threat: Journalists Face Assault and Harassment During Political Transition in Pakistan

Press Freedom Under Threat: Journalists Face Assault and Harassment During Political Transition in Pakistan

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Amidst the recent political transition in Pakistan, which saw Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) elected as the new prime minister following the ousting of Imran Khan from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party through a no-confidence vote, journalists have encountered various forms of adversity. Reports indicate a surge in physical assaults, online harassment, and legal intimidation targeting journalists since the change in leadership. The new PML-N government has also announced several administrative and legislative reforms, raising concerns about their potential impact on press freedom and freedom of expression.

One such incident occurred on April 21, when Khawar Mughal, a reporter for the privately owned broadcaster 92 News, was assaulted by a group of approximately 20 PTI employees at a party gathering in Lahore. The assailants targeted Mughal, accusing his channel of broadcasting anti-PTI content and preventing him from covering their event. Despite efforts by other journalists to intervene, the assailants continued their aggression. Although Mughal sustained minor injuries, no arrests have been made yet, despite the registration of a police report.

Similarly, at another PTI gathering in Lahore on April 22, an individual displayed a banner containing a veiled rape threat against Gharida Farooqi, a host for News One. Farooqi reported the incident to the Federal Investigation Agency, which she has previously engaged with regarding multiple instances of online harassment. However, no substantial actions have been taken to address the issue, reflecting a broader failure in addressing gendered harassment against journalists.

In addition to these targeted attacks, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) issued a formal notice to ARY News for their coverage of remarks made by Asad Majeed regarding an alleged foreign conspiracy to overthrow former Prime Minister Khan. This notice raised concerns about potential legal or disciplinary actions against the channel, indicating a tightening grip on media freedom.

Furthermore, the new Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Marriyum Aurangzeb, announced the abandonment of the proposed Pakistan Media Development Authority, which aimed to centralize media regulation under government control. However, while Aurangzeb pledged to review the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and denounced the PECA ordinance as a “black law,” concerns remain regarding the potential misuse of legislation to suppress freedom of expression.

Despite promises to implement the 2021 Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, certain provisions within the act, such as restrictions on disseminating “false or untrue” materials, raise apprehensions about its implications for press freedom. Additionally, Aurangzeb’s announcement to revise PEMRA laws to combat “fake news” further raises concerns about potential censorship measures.

The recent political transition in Pakistan has been accompanied by a concerning trend of assaults, harassment, and regulatory measures targeting journalists, posing significant challenges to press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

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