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Freedom of expression in Pakistan-A myth or a reality

Freedom of expression in Pakistan has continued to face challenges in the past years. Despite a noticeable decline in overall terrorism in the country, journalism and journalists have remained vulnerable.
Pakistan routinely ranks among the world’s most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed over their critical views.
At least 185 cases of attacks and violations were documented in Pakistan between May 2018 to January 2020, across all four provinces, Islamabad and tribal areas.
The violations include officially enforced censorship, written or verbal threats, killings, harassment, arrests, abductions, illegal confinements and physical assaults, conducted by state and non-state actors and political and religious parties.
Independence jeopardized 
Continued oppression against freedom of speech and expression has forced many media companies and journalists to self-censor in Pakistan.
They avoid reporting news and facts that may result in violence. This will have a serious and grave impact, particularly on investigative journalism in the country.
Several newspapers and news channels are practicing self-censorship. That is a serious spate for freedom of expression and deprives people of their right to information.
Islamabad- A riskiest city for journalists 
Surprisingly, Islamabad as the riskiest and most dangerous city in which to practice journalism, with 35 percent of all cases (55 out of 185) reported in the capital during the period.
Punjab province ranked second with 17 percent of the cases, Sindh with 16 percent and Baluchistan with 14 percent. Ten percent of the violations were noted in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Additionally, a semiautonomous tribal region bordering Afghanistan had 8 percent of the total registered cases.
Five journalists from different cities of Pakistan died in the line of duty, and 20 attacks were registered on media organizations in 2019. TV journalists were more vulnerable than journalists belonging to other media such as print, social media and radio.
Journalists killed in the line of duty
The media personnel killed in the line of duty in May 2019 to January 2020, were Muhammad Bilal (Islamabad), Ali Sher Rajpar and Aziz Memon (Naushero Feroze), Ilyas Warsi (Hyderabad), Mirza Waseem Baig (Gujrat), Zafar Abbas (Vehari) and Urooj Iqbal (Lahore).
No place safe for journalists in Pakistan 
No place in the four provinces are safe; attacks against journalists are taking place everywhere and that shockingly the state and its functionaries have emerged as the principal threat actor wielding the biggest stick to browbeat the media into submission amid the growing silence.
The Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2019-20, titled “Murders, harassment and assault: The tough wages of journalism in Pakistan”, said on an average of seven cases of violence were reported in a month or once every four days.
Besides seven murders, the incidents included two cases of abductions, nine cases of arrests, detentions or confinements, 10 cases of physical assaults, half of which caused severe injuries, one case of the attack on the home of a journalist, 23 cases of written or verbal threats, 10 cases of censorship, and eight instances of legal cases registered against journalists.
Impunity in the country continues
The number of journalists and media workers killed and attacked in Pakistan shows an abject failure to protect them against violence and to ensure accountability for perpetrators.
In almost all cases there is on-going impunity. Legal steps have not been introduced to enhance the protection of media workers or institutions.
Abducted Journalist Matiullah Jan
Senior journalist Matiullah Jan returned home late on Tuesday night, nearly 12 hours after he was abducted from Islamabad’s Sector G-6 in broad daylight.
Sources said Jan was released by unidentified persons in a deserted area in Fateh Jang, outside the capital. He is sound and was not tortured during the period of his abduction.
The federal or provincial government, political parties and other organizations, in their place, always have the most important goal behind suppressing freedom of expression because journalists want to bring the truth to the public.
It is quite possible that Matiullah Jan’s views pose a threat to some political parties, leaders or authorities in view of which Matiullah Jan was abducted and later released.
Uncontrolled freedom of speech unacceptable
Journalists should not have to live in an environment of fear. Those who go out to report events should not be killed, and no media group should be made to practice self-censorship.
However, many so-called journalists who occupy TV screens during prime time have crossed their lines many times and are unaware of the intricacies of journalism.
They invite problems by making false claims regarding different important institutions of the country. Uncontrolled freedom of speech is also not acceptable.
While playing its role as a watch-dog against government journalism also serves the cause of the society and the state.
In the permeating political landscape in the country, it has to exhibit a great sense of social responsibility instead of playing a partisan role and being part of the propaganda of the vested interests.
It needs to present a realistic and truthful picture of the unfolding scenario to the public enabling them to make informed and right decisions.
State responsibility
This is the responsibility of the state and media houses to ensure the safety of journalists and that their rights are fully respected. Those who go out in the field to dig stories and bring facts to the nation should be protected.
The PTI government must recognize that restrictions on freedom of expression and information under the pretext of ‘national security interest’ have detrimental consequences. Also, impunity for aggressors creating a coercive environment curtails the right to information.
The federal and provincial governments should enact exclusive laws for journalists’ safety for fulfilling their international commitments as well as constitutional responsibility towards freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press.
It is quiet fact, that the majority of the cases of targeted killing of journalists remained untraced, it was necessary for the government to adopt appropriate measures in this regard at the earliest.
Indeed, without independent journalism, democracy can have little chance of survival.
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