Targeted And Silenced: The Dangerous World Of Journalists In Pakistan – OpEd


The hazards journalists routinely confront are a sobering reminder of how press freedom continues to contract.

Journalism is unquestionably one of Pakistan’s most risky professions. Reporting from the frontlines often necessitates bravery in the face of grave threats to one’s life and liberty. Journalists work in an atmosphere where their lives are continually threatened, their voices are silenced, and their quest for truth is thwarted.

Media practitioners in Pakistan confront a variety of safety dangers as a result of the nature of their employment. They face death threats, kidnapping, assault, violence, and intimidation. According to a UNESCO observatory assessment, 90 journalists were killed in the country between 2002 and 2022, including five last year alone. As a result, a culture of fear and self-censorship has developed, limiting coverage of crucial problems such as human rights violations, corruption, and political persecution.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Pakistan is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. The prevalent culture of impunity is one of the most alarming aspects of the situation in Pakistan. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the perpetrators in more than 90% of journalist murder cases are still at large, dodging justice. This climate of impunity not only promotes violence against journalists, but it also encourages self-censorship among media workers who are afraid of being held accountable for their work.

Article 19 of the country’s Constitution states that press freedom is “subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law” for national security, defence, or religion. Interpretations of the article have resulted in restrictions on press freedom for reasons of decency, morality, or offending the official religion, Islam. Meanwhile, journalistic abductions, assaults, harassment, arbitrary arrests, and even murders have been on the rise. The Pakistani government has also intensified pressure on editors and media owners to stifle critics of the administration.

In October 2022, 49-year-old TV journalist Arshad Sharif was shot and killed by police in Nairobi in what the police dubbed a case of “mistaken identity.” However, Pakistani investigators found it was a “planned assassination. Sharif had been living in exile since fleeing the country to avoid detention on sedition charges. His family believes the government was involved in his death. Akash Ram, the marketing director for Bol Media Group, was abducted in April 2023 and is still held captive today. His kidnapping, as a member of Pakistan’s Hindu population, has raised worries about the country’s treatment of minority communities. Imran Riaz Khan, a notable investigative journalist, was recently seized by unknown officials. In recent times, Imran Riaz Khan, a notable investigative journalist, was kidnapped by mysterious officials who have refused to offer any information regarding his whereabouts. Despite the court’s unambiguous directives, the police are unable to furnish information regarding the journalist. These attacks have hampered Pakistanis’ access to crucial information, as journalists routinely self-censor their reporting. This truth is especially important amid prolonged turmoil in politics and the economy, when the public requires accurate information.

Areas of the tribal belt and old FATA remain completely inaccessible war zones into which journalists are not permitted to travel. Because of the perils, entire tales retreat untold on these hazy battlefields of insurgent proxies and security operations. Because media organisations lack the resources to assure safety, conflict reporters who work in such high-risk zones generally operate without Kevlar vests or security details. As trauma accumulates, grievances grow about a lack of psychological support services. “The ramifications of their actions were swift and terrifying. ” I became a continuous target of threats from organisations whose names I chose not to reveal. “Fearful for my safety, I sought refuge within the walls of my office,” he explained. “A single manipulated headline has forever changed my life.”

Harassment, violence, and persistent threats are common problems for Balochistan-based journalists, according to TV journalist Abdullah Magsi. “I have witnessed firsthand the obstacles and dangers that Balochi journalists endure in their pursuit of press freedom,” he remarked. “Our province is distinguished by a complicated security situation, tribal dynamics, and religious influences, all of which frequently obstruct journalistic work.” The issue is exacerbated by a lack of institutional assistance.”

In the meantime, some government ministers’ toxic public rhetoric endangers journalists, particularly women. They face disproportionate risks, such as hordes of online trolls and a harassment campaign fueled by partisan propaganda. As a result, self-censorship has tragically become the norm, even on reasonably safe beats, to avoid controversy in an environment where assault impunity is ingrained.

Journalists in Pakistan from various media affiliations and locales have expressed how a lack of press freedom has impacted their profession. For example, when reporting on a blast in Landi Kotal that killed 26 people, Muhammad Qasim, a top reporter from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Ummat Newspaper, decided not to name the gang suspected of being behind the incident for fear of retaliation. Despite his protests, Qasim’s editorial staff published the report with eye-catching headlines that identified the gang. “The ramifications of their actions were swift and terrifying. I became a continuous target of threats from organisations whose names I chose not to reveal. Fearful for my safety, I sought sanctuary within the confines of my office,” he said. “A single manipulated headline permanently altered my life.”

Despite the risks, journalists stay committed to their work. “Fear for my family’s safety consumes my thoughts, but it does not deter me,” stated Sindh Province journalist Lala Mirza. “For example, Aziz Memon and Arshad Sharif have paid the ultimate price for speaking out. “Their sacrifices serve as a reminder of the dangers we face,” she remarked, referring to the recent deaths of two notable journalists for their reporting.

Because of the absence of political appetite in the country for improving the safety of reporters and insufficient government attempts to improve press freedom, journalists will almost certainly continue to face the consequences of worsening press freedom in the future. However, journalists and campaigners have suggestions about how to improve the situation. “A commission of impartial judges should act quickly to respond to attacks on journalists and protect their rights,” Mirza proposed. “We need a safe environment for journalism to thrive and those in power to be held accountable.”

The dangers that journalists face in Pakistan are a serious matter that requires immediate response. The disturbing data from numerous studies paints a bleak picture of the dangers that journalists face in their quest for the truth. It is critical that the Pakistani government take decisive action to protect journalists, secure justice for past atrocities, and foster an environment conducive to press freedom. A society that values democratic and transparent principles must recognise the critical role of journalists and seek to defend their rights, paving the path for a more informed and accountable nation. The government, civil society, media organisations, and journalists themselves must all work together to improve press freedom in Pakistan. Only after that will Pakistan’s media landscape accurately reflect the country’s democratic ideals and offer citizens the trustworthy information they require.


Asfandiyar works as a journalist based in Islamabad.

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