Paris-based Watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned of an “alarming decline” in the state of press freedom in Pakistan and called on Prime Minister Imran Khan to take urgent measures to address the situation.
RSF took issue with Khan’s recent statement during a trip to Washington that talking about curbs on press freedom in Pakistan was a "joke," outlining several recent incidents it says illustrate the deteriorating climate against a free press in the country.
“There is nothing funny about this 'joke' for journalists in your country,” the statement, dated July 31, said.
“It is clear that either you are very poorly informed, in which case you should urgently replace the people around you, or you are knowingly concealing the facts, which is very serious, given your responsibilities,” it added.
Khan came to power after elections in 2018 accusing senior officials of large-scale corruption and mismanagement of Pakistan's economy.
But he has since been criticized for failing to keep the military from restricting press freedoms.
Most recently, Pakistan's most popular TV station, Geo News, was abruptly forced off the air in many parts of the country on July 21, just hours before Khan and a high-level delegation that included senior Pakistani army and intelligence officials, landed in Washington for talks with U.S. officials.
The move was condemned by international media watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which in a September report said that the climate for press freedom in Pakistan was under pressure as the country's powerful army "quietly, but effectively" restricts reporting through "intimidation" and other means.
The Pakistani army and the Inter-Services Intelligence, the military's notorious spy wing, play a major role in domestic and foreign affairs in the South Asian country of some 212 million people.
“In the light of this recent surge in press-freedom violations…you will appreciate that to talk of ‘one of the freest presses in the world’ is clearly tantamount to an obscenity,” the RSF statement, signed by its Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, said.
“We therefore urge your government to allow Pakistan’s journalists to exercise their profession in complete safety and with complete independence, as envisaged in Article 19 of the 1973 constitution. The credibility of the Pakistani state and democracy is at stake,” he added.
Pakistan ranked 142 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.