Khansa Munir Khan

Pakistan is among the top five countries with worst record of journalists. The explanations of insecurity of journalists in Pakistan are various which include weak law and order situation in the country, military’s involvement, religious extremism, and social conservatism.

Pakistan is also among those countries where journalists feel vulnerable to both the state agencies and also to the non-state actors. Every year, a large number of journalists are killed and abducted which causes a sense of fear in other journalists in expressing their views and reports openly. The explanations of insecurity of journalists in Pakistan are various which include weak law and order in the country, military’s involvement, religious extremism, and social conservatism.

Pakistan has submitted a report to the 120th session of UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva in which many such cases were examined and reported. It is quite disturbing that freedom of expression is not in practice in Pakistan, although, the constitution of Pakistan has given fundamental rights to freedom of expression, press and information. The UDHR also gives the same kind of right which is stated in the Pakistani constitution.

Moreover, the state, rather than giving protection to journalists, suppresses them even more by controlling media. The state is also accused for targeting the journalists which is a quite a disturbing situation. Those journalists who report on armed political conflicts are specially targeted which makes journalism a deadly business in Pakistan. Even the cases of journalists are not reported or highlighted. According to Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), there had been 73 journalists who have been killed since 2002 whereas only five were convicted.  Till now only two cases of murder of journalists had reached to conclusion, those were the murder cases of Daniel Pearl and Wali Khan Babar. So, despite having a democratic rule, a refined constitution and technological advancement, why Pakistan is not a safe country for journalists?

Pakistan, a country which survived three military coups through which military ruled for more than three decades, has faced severe repressive regimes where freedom of expression has not been given to the public. After these regimes the so-called ‘war on terror’ has worsened the situation even more. Tehreek-e-Taliban along with other non-state actors started curbing this freedom of expression by abducting people whose voices mattered the most to the society.

Journalism has been considered a job through which people can get education and could give awareness to the society. It is basically the guarding mechanism of the rights of people in the society. History is mainly preserved by them because they have the skills of observation, writing and analyzing. Journalists are also known as the Fourth Estate and the guardians of public interests. They also has the responsibility to criticize every wrong doing in the society whether it is done by the government or any other powerful actor of the state.

They bring people in front of law and make them held accountable for their actions by highlighting the issues of the society. They work on the behalf of people and serve them. As Kempf argues that “journalists would comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable; they would scrutinize the powerful on the behalf of the powerless; they would give voice to the voiceless.”

Freedom of expression is given as a right to the citizens of Pakistan. According to the constitution of Pakistan, media and people are given the freedom of speech and expression as well.

The Article 19 of the constitution states the Freedom of speech as a right of every citizen;

“Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offense.”

(Article 19, 1973)

19A. “Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.” 

Pakistani Journalists

Pakistani journalists are given very limited voices and the risk of manipulation is even higher along with threats to their own lives and their family’s lives. Journalists report those stories which needs attention of higher authorities to resolve that issues. However, in case of Pakistan journalists does not put a heed to the significance of the story rather they argue ‘is it worth your life?’ It means the real issues of public are undermined due to the prevailing terror among the journalists.

Journalists lives are so insecure in Pakistan that approximately 76 journalists were killed between 2000 and 2011 which put Pakistan on the top of the countries that are dangerous for journalists at that time. Such problems cause a trouble towards fair journalism which seems quite impossible in Pakistan due to these issues. Journalists can no longer have access to the information along with the issue of trust deficit which the state and the local community has in between them. Ahmad Noorani the journalist who was viciously attacked with knives and iron rods in October 2017 said, “The press is completely controlled at the moment with threats, direct or indirect, to us and our families. No mention of the military’s involvement in politics can be written or talked about now, although in past eras it was commonplace, even by retired military men.”

Hayatullah Khan:

Hayatullah khan was an investigative journalist and reporter in The Nation, Ausaf and general secretary of Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ). He was working on the stories related to US-led drone attacks in Pakistan. He was the first journalist who covered the drone attacks in tribal areas when US was denying it. Hayatullah was abducted in januray 2006 and found dead on 16 June 2006 in North Waziristan. His family accused security agencies of pakistan for his killing because ‘they’ were infuriated of his ‘independent reporting’ and reporting on US drone attacks. Mazhar Abbas, secretary general of Pakistan’s largest journalist union, pointed at the government as the prime accused in hayatullah’s murder. He said that until the arrest of hayatullah’s murderers the government will be accused for killing a journalist.

Syed Saleem Shahzad

 Syed Saleem Shahzad in his 40s, who worked for notable European and Asian newspapers was an investigative journalist. He reported the PNS Mehran attack which was set up by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al Qaeda on 22 May 2011 in response of killing Osama Bin Laden in Abotabad on 2nd may, 2011. However, Saleem Shahzad had brought a report in front of the media that the attack was facilitated by some military personnel inside the navy because some navy officers were arrested by intelligence agencies as they were suspected of having links with Al-Qaeda. But the story was covered up and no one was given access to the details.

The next day, Shahzad was kidnapped and two days later his dead body was found in far slum area of Islamabad with torture marks on it.

Cyril Almeida

Cyril Almeida is a Pakistani journalist who worked for DAWN newspaper. He is known for highlighting the civil-military tensions in Pakistan. Although, the state has accused him of treason and put his name on the Exit Control List (ECL) for quite a long time but he got fame and support in the international media. Almeida has been given the title of ‘World Press Freedom Hero’ by the International Press Institute in 2019.

The treason case against Cyril Almeida started when he covered an exclusive story in 2016 which revealed the ongoing tensions between the civil government and the top officials of the army. He revealed the meeting held between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The confrontation between both revolved around the issue of army’s inaction against certain militant groups based in Pakistan. These insurgent groups were creating chaos in the country and in the region as well. The story revealed that the government wanted to curb the increasing militancy which was a cause of ‘terrorism’ in the country and for that it required army to facilitate it in the cause and not hinder its efforts. Due to increased terrorism, Pakistan was getting isolated in the world.

Almeida stated that the state of Pakistan was giving patronage to the militant groups. He then interviewed the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, who said that the militants were allowed by the army to cross the Line of Control into India. Nawaz Sharif accused the military for ousting him from the prime ministership a year earlier. He also criticized the role of Pakistan in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, alleging that more could have been done to stop the attacks on India’s financial capital.

Almeida was then accused of treason for “leaking national secrets” in a “fabricated news story” in a classic act of shooting the messenger. The government asked him to reveal his sources of this story. He kept on writing on this issue in Dawn while his name was on ECL. To this day it is not clear as to who gave that story to Dawn, since the inquiry was never made public. Cyril Almeida had merely done his job, which was no act of ‘treason’. Even the Dawn newspaper has been accused of treason and was imposed high financial sanctions on it.  Such acts of intimidation by the state are just suppressing the dissents.

The case against Almeida going on in Lahore High Court is so absurd because the treason charges can only be imposed if the case is file by the federal government in the court. Courts cannot pursue such cases on the demand of any individual neither any court can validate such an allegiance on their own. This has been clarified in the Article 6 (High Treason Act) of the constitution of Pakistan. According to it, 

Clause (2A) “An act of high treason mentioned in clause (1) or clause (2) shall not be validated by any court including the Supreme Court and a High Court.”

Clause (3) “ [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] shall by law provide for the punishment of persons found guilty of high treason.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that the military is curbing the free journalism by acts of intimidation and suppressing the reporters by instigating violence against them. Although Pakistan is under a civilian government but the military has quite a strict say in each of the matter as Almeida said, “The pressures are the worst in decades and unprecedented for an era of civilian governments, there is no indication of a let up anytime soon.” The country’s most powerful institution, army, has long been accused of meddling in civilian politics.

After 9/11, US has started ‘War on Terror’ which was fought in Pakistani areas: FATA and Baluchistan, as well. This war has cost many lives including journalists. At the same time, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a fatwa which declared media ‘a special target’. The government was also suspicious on their activities that they are working for terrorists. For this very reason, the situation for the journalist community was quite troublesome in that War on Terror (WOT).  Below are some cases where journalists faced harassment, torture and killing:

Hamid Mir

There are numerous examples of assassination attempts and target killings of journalists and media workers. On 19 April 2014, Hamid Mir, a popular anchor was shot in his car by some gunmen on motorcycle in Karachi when he was on his way to office. He was fired with six bullets. His driver rushed the car to the hospital and he survived luckily. Just after minutes of the incident, Hamid Mir’s brother accused the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on live TV for the attack. Hamid Mir himself once said it in his talk show that if something happened to him or he was killed, the intelligence agencies would be responsible. He got life threats from both the ISI which is the state’s premiere intelligence agency and the TTP which was the most powerful non-state actor. He also survived a bomb attack in 2012 set up in a car by the TTP that was furious of him because few years back, he covered the story of a young girl, Malala Yousafzai, who had campaigned for the education of girls in the areas that were largely controlled by the TTP militants at the time and gave her the limelight.

Raza Rumi

Raza Rumi, another journalist based in Lahore, escaped the murder attempt in 2014. His car was shot 11 times but he sustained the attempt by covering himself between the seats in the car. However, his driver was killed and guard was injured.


Journalism shapes the society and politics of any country. In chaos type situations, the journalism becomes more difficult because the information gathering becomes a difficult task. Journalism is a difficult profession in countries like Pakistan where having a voice is itself a crime and holding a separate view point is a struggle due to extremism. However, there are still journalists who put their life in danger for reporting the true stories and make people aware of the ongoing issues. Journalism is not just a profession in pakistan anymore, now it has become a quest for the truth and commitment to the country. Giving journalists ‘access’, ‘trust’ and ‘respect’, is not more than what they give in return: their lives.

This study reveals a very limited scope of safe journalism in Pakistan because journalists experience diverse safety threats that affect their physical, psychological, financial, legal, social and emotional state. The study highlights Pakistan’s public and media organizations as the emerging sources of threats, in addition to militants, government, political parties, intelligence agencies and religious organizations. Pakistan’s legal system and judicial framework are not strong enough to provide protection to journalists and to counter the country’s culture of impunity.

About The Author
Khansa Munir Khan is currently working as a freelance writer. She graduated from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad in International Relations. She has a deep interest in studying humanitarian crises, gender equality, development, and International Humanitarian Law. She can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale 47.

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