Pakistan intensifies media crackdown, targets over 200 journalists

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Over 200 Journalists Targeted Amid Media Crackdown
Media Crackdown (Photo - Web)

A concerning trend has emerged in Pakistan, where media freedom and freedom of expression face significant challenges, according to a report titled ‘Erosion of Free Speech: The Silencing of Citizens, Political Parties and Media’ released by the Freedom Network ahead of World Press Freedom Day.

The annual report, covering the period from May 2023 to April 2024, highlights the increased Pak-driven intimidation and predatory actions by illegal elements and actors against journalists, bloggers, and dissenting voices in Pakistan. Over 200 journalists and bloggers were reportedly targeted through legal notices during this period, signaling a crackdown on media freedom.

The report underscores a concerning trend of reduced tolerance for online dissent, coupled with attacks and harassment against journalists and bloggers. Tragically, four journalists lost their lives during the review period, with documented cases of violations against media personnel totaling 104, including murders, assaults, injuries, kidnappings, threats, and legal proceedings.

“Over 70 legal notices were served to media practitioners. Many came consequent to a ‘joint investigation team’ of various government departments tasked with identifying persons for running a smear campaign against some judges; and that the judiciary was being used to target free expression aimed at others,” the report states.

The crackdown on journalists and bloggers coincided with a broader assault on free speech, as political workers also found themselves targeted, signaling a broader erosion of freedom of expression. This crackdown transpired against a backdrop of warnings and actions by high-ranking officials, exacerbating the atmosphere of intimidation.

“Political workers also came in the dragnet. All this transpired against a backdrop of warnings of actions by high officials, including top government functionaries, followed by regular targeting of online expression,” the report underlined.

The report also raises alarms over government attempts to pass the ‘E-Safety Bill and Personal Data Protection Bill’, which aim to regulate online content and establish authorities with powers to penalize social media users, further curtailing free speech and online expression.

“Adverse policy actions, such as the state’s intent to weaponize regulations of online content, particularly social media platforms, including journalistic and social expression, will not only institutionalize coercive censorship but also put other Pakistan’s rising digital economy in peril,” the report warned.

The report’s findings shed light on the deteriorating state of media freedom and freedom of expression in Pakistan, with journalists, bloggers, and dissenting voices facing increased legal harassment, intimidation, and violence, raising concerns among media watchdogs and human rights organizations.

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