This year’s World Press Freedom Day (May 3) aims to do just that, under the theme of “Journalism without Fear or Favour.” It calls for awareness on specific issues about the safety of journalists, their independence from political or commercial influence in all aspects of the media, and gender equality.
Though the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan and Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR guarantees freedom of expression and free media but media in Pakistan continued to be in chains or under a strict form of physical intimidation like killings and self-censorship regime during 2019 like preceding years.
Despite the fact that there is a specific law on defamation, but the government and other actors used Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, (PECA) and Pakistan Penal Codes criminalization sections against media practitioners in Pakistan.
According to Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2020, at least 91 cases of attacks and violations against journalists and media practitioners were documented in Pakistan in the one year between May 3, 2019 and April 10, 2020 across all territories of Pakistan, which includes 23 cases of verbal or written threats of murder or other dire consequences (25%), at least 13 cases of offline and online harassment (14%), and 11 cases of assassination attempts (12%) of which seven resulted in killing of journalists placing Islamabad as the most risky for journalism (34%) in Pakistan followed by Sindh (27%) and Punjab (22%). Threat actors suspects includes, state and its authorities, political parties, religious groups or criminal gangs and influential individuals.
It was claimed by government that cyber law Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 would deal with cybercrimes and online harassment of women and would not be used against journalists’ media. But on the contrary the same law had been used against media freedom and freedom of expression in one way or other.
During National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights meeting dated 20th May, 2019, Ch. Muhammad Shafique Chairman PCHR & Member Federal NCHR highlighted journalist safety issues and need for reforming Pakistan Electronic Crimes Prevention Act (PECA). Mr. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (Chairperson NA HR Committee) requested for suggestions to amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 to pre-empt misuse of the law and committee would review the law in consultation with the Ministry of Human Rights in light of recommendations
In the above context, PCHR is currently engaged with UNESCO and SDG Taskforce, a series of activities focusing following key objectives;
• High level advocacy and consultation on existing legal framework including review of PECA 2016, and pending bill on safety of journalists
• Support parliamentary intervention/engagement on international obligations, UPR recommendations among other UN Human Rights instruments pertaining to Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists.