ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been added to the “Press freedom predators” list by the Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that aims at safeguarding the right to freedom of information.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is among the new entrants to the gallery, which has been updated for the first time since 2016. The list comprises 37 heads of state – including six from the Middle East – who have cracked down on press freedom, created a stifling censorship apparatus, and have jailed journalists arbitrarily or incited violence against them.
Explaining their decision to class the Saudi Crown Prince as a “predator”, a statement on the RSF website said that he “heads a monarchy that tolerates no press freedom. His repressive methods include spying and threats that have sometimes led to abduction, torture and other unthinkable acts.”
The report says “cases of brazen censorship are legion” since Imran Khan became prime minister. “Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed. Journalists who cross the red lines have been threatened, abducted and tortured.”
“In the shadows, behind Khan in the limelight, Pakistan is reliving some of the worst moments of its past military dictatorships,” it added.
Regarding Indian PM Modi, it said he has a “judicial arsenal with provisions that pose a major threat to press freedom” while the coverage of his “extremely divisive and derogatory speeches, which often constitute disinformation, enables the media to achieve record audience levels.”
It added that journalists risk the possibility of life imprisonment under the extremely vague charge of sedition while an army of trolls wage “appalling hate campaigns on social media against the journalists they don’t like, campaigns that almost routinely include calls for the journalists to be killed.”
The governments of all those who appear on the list have been deemed fundamentally unsafe for journalists. Nearly half of the leaders on the list are appearing for the first time, while seven leaders such as Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin have long been a fixture on the list.
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Other Middle Eastern leaders listed include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bahrain’s King Hamed bin Isa al-Khalifa. Other new entrants include Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, whose aggression towards the media has heightened during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
Two female leaders have joined the list for the first time including Carrie Lam, who has served as chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since 2017 and is widely seen to support Chinese President Xi Jinping’s repressive policies towards the media. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, who adopted a digital security law in 2018 that led to more than 70 journalists and bloggers being prosecuted, has also been added.