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'Environment Of Fear' Undermines Pakistan's Electoral Process, CPJ Warns

Pakistani TV anchorman Asad Kharal talks to visitors at a hospital in Lahore after he was stabbed by masked men near his residence on June 6.
Pakistani TV anchorman Asad Kharal talks to visitors at a hospital in Lahore after he was stabbed by masked men near his residence on June 6.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Pakistani government to take “swift measures” to guarantee reporters’ ability to work without fear of intimidation or reprisal ahead of this month’s general elections.

“To assure that these elections are transparent and fair…there must be an open media environment that allows Pakistanis to fully enjoy their constitutional right of access to information,” the New York-based press freedom advocacy group said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Nasir ul-Mulk on July 2.

In the letter, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon wrote that a series of “worrisome occurrences” over the past months have “prevented the free distribution of news or...appear to be aimed at intimidating journalists into silence.”

He cited the abduction of journalist British-Pakistani journalist Gul Bukhari last month, the assault of journalist Asad Kharal in the eastern city of Lahore, and other recent incidents.

Meanwhile, the transmission of Geo TV news programs was “arbitrarily blocked” by cable operators in parts of Pakistan and newspaper distributors were “under pressure” to halt the sales of the Dawn newspaper.

Steps to protect the freedom of the press should include taking legal or administrative measures to guarantee that news organizations can freely distribute their material and quickly investigate and bring to justice those who interfere with the distribution of news or who are behind the attacks on journalists.

“The atmosphere of intimidation in Pakistan stymies the country's press corps and undermines the electoral process,” Simon wrote. “Ultimately, this environment of fear will undercut the legitimacy and authority of the new government.”

In a statement last month, the London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced the “ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, attacks on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” in the lead-up to the July 25 polls.

And the Independent Press Institute, an international watchdog headquartered in Vienna, released a report denouncing a campaign of intimidation against independent media by the Pakistani military.

“The continued persecution of the independent media is designed to convey a clear message: that any criticism of the military’s involvement in civilian affairs will have dire consequences for the survival of an independent press in Pakistan,” the report said.

Pakistan’s army denies involvement in politics.

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