Pakistan failing to combat rising impunity for crimes against journalists: report | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

Pakistan failing to combat rising impunity for crimes against journalists: report

Pakistan Press Foundation

KARACHI: The alleged murder of journalist and Vlogger Nazim Jokhio, by the ruling elite
raises serious concerns on the safety and protection of journalists in Pakistan. In last four years,
more than 42 journalists have been killed in the country and several have been threatened with
serious repercussions for them or their families.
On November 3, 2021, Nazim Jokhio who lived in Aachar Salar village, Thatta district,
intercepted some elite falconers driving around in the area. Accompanied by Pakistani
facilitators, the falconers included members of the royal family from the UAE. They were hosted
by Jam Awais, a member of the provincial assembly from the then ruling Pakistan People Party
in Sindh.

The elite falconers were looking for the endangered houbara bustard, locally known as taloor in
Sindhi. As Jokhio reprimanded the hunters, a verbal brawl began which was filmed by him and
streamed live on his Facebook account
When Jam Awais heard about this incident, he asked Jokhio to come to his farmhouse and on the
insistence of his brother Afzal Jokhio, he complied. Before reaching the farmhouse, he posted
another video statement on his Facebook account expressing serious concerns about his life and
stated that if something went wrong, Awais should be held accountable. As they arrived at the
farmhouse, the elder brother was asked to leave Jokhio there and depart.
The next morning, Afzal Jokhio received a phone call to come and take his brother away. When
he arrived there, to his utter surprise, he found the dead body of his brother — apparently
tortured to death.
“The night before when Jokhio had been in Jam Awais’s house in captivity, he was tortured and
brutally murdered for altercation with foreign guests,” as per the first investigation report or FIR
registered by the Jokhio family at the local police station.
The incidence led to widespread protests across Sindh for fair trial and provision of justice to the
family of deceased journalist. Later, the case was filed in the anti-terrorism court in Malir, Sindh,
Pakistan. The accused were arrested, but by paying the diyat or blood money, as per Islamic law,
the culprits managed to flip the case in their favour and were soon released.
“Although democratic governments are established through popular vote, in Pakistan
unfortunately, only the feudal, influential, elite and religious leaders come into power,” said
Mehnaz Rahman, human rights activist and resident director of Aurat Foundation, commenting
on the murder. “The common citizens have no right to speech, and they live at the mercy of the
powerful and influential. In Jokhio’s murder case, our courts could not award any punishment to
culprits, who were soon set free. This indicates how power dynamics work and exploit the
underprivileged in Pakistan.”
According to the report filed by the Jokhio family at the local police station, Jam Awais’s elder
brother Jam Abdul Karim, then member of the National Assembly, slapped Jokhio at the
farmhouse for accosting the foreign guests and asked him to delete the video of the incident from
his mobile. Later, he handed Jokhio over to the security guards who locked him up in a private
“I cannot forget the day this horrific incident happened,” says Jokhio’s wife Shireen as tears
rolled down her face. “My husband’s brother took my husband to Jam’s farmhouse for settling
the issue,” “But it was a ploy. My husband was tortured and killed later that night. There were
several punch marks and injuries on his body. When they killed him, they informed his brother
on the phone to take him away as though he was alive. The postmortem report also confirmed
several injuries on my husband’s body.”
Houbara bustard and bird diplomacy

The houbara bustard is a large terrestrial bird found in the central Asian regions of Kazakhstan
and Uzbekistan to Middle East, Mongolia and the Gobi Desert to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The
bird migrates from its nesting grounds in central Asia to wintering grounds in Pakistan.
Aided by trained falcons, heavy vehicles and large personnel, elite from the Middle East hunt
houbara bustards in the desert and semi-desert areas of Pakistan. Every year, our Ministry of
Foreign Affairs issues hunting permits to Arab dignitaries who hunt taloor birds in Sindh,
Balochistan and parts of Punjab in each winter season starting from November 1 to January 30.
According to Naveed Soomro, manager of the Conservation Sindh Programme at IUCN
Pakistan, houbara bustard is a globally endangered bird species that is declared vulnerable on
IUCN Red List. He pointed out that due to hunting, poaching, habitat degradation and climate
change impact, the bird population is rapidly decreasing in Pakistan.
According to BirdLife International, the houbara bustard population ranges between 33,000 to
67,000 globally. WWF-Pakistan’s statement on houbara bustard mentions that the bird is listed
in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in endangered species of wild flora and
fauna and Appendix II of Convention on Migratory Species respectively. It further states that
under these conventions, hunting of the bird is prohibited except for scientific research.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had banned the hunting of houbara bustard in the
country. Later, a review petition was filed in the supreme court by the government on the
premise that the ban damaged Pakistan’s diplomatic relations with Middle-Eastern states. Hence,
the supreme court revoked its earlier decision and the ban was lifted
Terming it ‘soft diplomacy’ or ‘bird diplomacy’, the government believes that houbara bustard
helps to boost trade and develop friendly relations with Gulf states such as Bahrain, Qatar, UAE
and Saudi Arabia. Thus, it seems that the endangered houbara must lay its life if cordial relations
are to be developed and maintained between the Pakistani government and the ruling elite in
Arab countries.
Jokhio’s posthumous award
To recognise his efforts for nature conservation, WWF-Pakistan honoured of late Jokhio with the
Syed Asad Ali Conservation award. The award was presented to Shireen Jokhio along with other
award winners during a ceremony held in Lahore last month.
The judicial circus
While largescale protests by family, friends and relatives of the deceased journalist took place
across Sindh for his brutal murder, the police department and influentials in the ruling party in
Sindh were busy making backdoor efforts to save the killers. When the case was registered at the
local police station, the former MPA Awais and his six security guards were arrested. Jokhio’s
brother was the main petitioner and the proceedings of the case began at District Malir Court. To
provide legal assistance and follow-up on the case, four lawyers from Sindh Legal Aid
Committee offered their services free of cost.
Kazim Hussain Manesar, advocate Sindh High Court and member of the executive body of the
Sindh Legal Aid Committee, informed that when the hearings began at District Malir Court,

Jokhio’s brother backed out due to political pressure. Later, Jokhio’s wife became the main
petitioner. As the elements of terror were deliberately associated with the case, it was transferred
to Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi. On legal grounds, the case was again shifted to Additional
District and Session Judge who said that Jokhio’s wife was also threatened and pressurised by
influentials and her in-laws to compromise. An agreement was reached between both parties and
a copy of it was submitted to the Additional District
Judge (ADJ). Under that agreement, the amount of Rs 3058,954 ($10,340) was paid as blood
money to the family for murder as allowed by the Islamic law of diyat.
“Five out of the seven accused have been released on bail by ADJ,” says Manesar. “Chances are
that all the accused may be acquitted soon due to submission of diyat agreement.”
However, Jokhio’s wife says she wants to pursue the case, but was pressurised by her in-laws to
either remain silent or leave the house. “I have not received the blood-money nor pardoned the
murderers,” she says.
Diyat law
According to legal experts, the diyat option is used in the murders committed accidentally or
without any ill intention and as per the law, money is paid as compensation to the heirs or family.
However, it cannot be applied in cases which involve the pre-planned murder, or where
malicious intention is involved. It is unfortunate that the influential and powerful exploit this law
and misuse it for legal, economic, or political gains.
The law is misused by the powerful and the elite in Pakistan. According to the Islamic scholar,
Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, it is the prime responsibility of the state to investigate the context of how
the murder happened, and award punishment to the culprits as per law. The state should decide if
diyat applies or not, and then reach out to the family of the victim for consent.
Media freedom – a sham or scam
Jokhio was not the only journalist who was victimised, as dozens of other media people have
been killed in Pakistan in last three decades. The data available on the website of Committee to
Protect Journalists reveals that a total of 97 journalists and media workers have been targeted
between 1992 to 2023 in Pakistan. According to a report by Freedom Network, 140 incidences of
attacks and threats have occurred in Pakistan between May 2022 to March 2023. This indicates
that media people in Pakistan do not enjoy freedom of expression and are often targeted.
How safe are journalists
After incessant efforts made by several journalist organisations working on freedom of
expression, right to information, human rights, and safety and security of the journalists, the
Sindh Assembly has passed the Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Act
and a commission has also been set up, yet journalists face several challenges, and fall victim to
power politics in Pakistan. Jokhio’s murder is a clarion call to take immediate steps for
protection of the journalists and provide security to their families.

Source: Express Tribune

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