Media Freedom under attack by Pakistan’s Government, the military and the judiciary
Three television channels of Pakistan’s most watched and most influential media network Geo TV, was ordered to be taken off air and shut down for a period of 15 days on the instruction of the country’s intelligence agency the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). Continuing the attack Geo TV was also baselessly fined a sum of R 100 Million by Pakistan’s Electronics Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Joining the fray of attacks on Geo TV, the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the ISI charged that the media giant of defaming the army and the governments spy agency the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) when the media network aired credible allegations that the ISI including its chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam for the recent attack and attempted murder of Geo TV s star journalist Hamid Mir, while he was driving through Karachi.
The attack and shootout in April this year, left Mir, seriously injured. Mr. Hamid Mir, one of Geo TV’s most famed anchor-persons has directly accused the ISI chief for the attack and conspiracy to assassinate him and to silence any critique of the ISI or its agents.
Although Geo TV has tendered an official apology several times, following the airing, reports revealed that the ISI forced the hand of both the PEMRA and the Ministry of Defence to take punitive actions against Geo TV, and to send out a powerful message that no criticism of the ISI nor any of its agents will be tolerated in Pakistan.
The AHRC has learns that, the regulatory body PEMRA, under virtual coercion by the ISI , has taken the decision to close down Geo TV with only members from government being called by the PEMRA’s Chairperson and just hours before the announcement of the ban.
The AHRC notes with concern that this issue is seen as a serious threat to media freedom in Pakistan by the Government, the army and the intelligence agencies. According to reports, Geo TV and its sister channels have been taken off air by cable TV operators, under pressure from the military, that four of the company’s vehicles were burned in different stations across the country and that a journalist, has been beaten up by unidentified assailants in the city of Multan in central Pakistan, even before Friday’s ban was announced.
Further, the federal minister of Defence in a televised interview had issued a warning to all media institutions in the country, threatening that if any person or institution found maligning the armed forces would be strictly dealt with. He had added further that the punishment meted out to Geo TV was not severe enough. The attacks on media and press freedom had escalated to highest proportions following these recent events that other government Ministers too, have been reported to have baselessly criticised media institutions in reporting the recent attacks on the Karachi airport, for exposing the weaknesses and failures of the military and the government authorities in handling these terrorist attacks.
The deterioration of media freedom in Pakistan is fast transforming into a deeper crisis as the judiciary too has been reported to have joined the intelligence services and the government military and intelligence apparatus in restricting media freedom in Pakistan. In another incident a Judge of the Islamabad High Court, a well-known vigilante for his affiliation with fundamentalist groups and was had been biased in favour of killing of the former governor of Punjab on blasphemy, has banned an anchor-person, Mr. Mubashir Luqman, from yet another TV channel in Pakistan, the ARY TV, from conducting any programmes on air due to him exposing to a fraudulent land deal by a wife of a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The attacks on media freedom in Pakistan do not end here. According to sources, the Pakistan government is in the process of drafting a code of conduct for the media which will drastically limit the space and scope of freedom of expression. The code of conduct declares that no media house will be allowed to criticize the armed forces and their intelligence agencies without prior confirmation and worse will not be allowed to criticize any decisions of the courts.
The freedom of expression in Pakistan is in a perilous state and continues to worsen every day, by constantly being under government’s close watch , by constant military interference and by constant threats by the intelligence services. No criticism, even credible allegations against any of these government establishments are met with heavy reprisals against the media.
The fragile state of the country’s media freedom is further demonstrated by the constant harassment of journalists, which even go beyond harassment and take their lives. Publications are being constantly censored, websites are being blocked, and legislation is being passed in total disregard of all fundamental rights.
Legislations such as the Official Secret Act of 1923 and other blasphemy laws have generated much disgust among the people of Pakistan. Pakistan’s Constitution enshrines in Article 19 the freedom of speech and expression – which the state has miserably failed to uphold. Pakistan is also obliged under Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] to ensure freedom of expression and speech – none of which is presently being followed by the Pakistan government. Article 19 of the ICCPR also makes it mandatory for the countries to guarantee the undiluted freedom of expression even during times of war or war like conditions.
In this backdrop the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urges the government of Pakistan to ensure and respect the very constitutional guarantees of freedom expression and speech to all citizens. We also urge the government of Pakistan to adhere to its international obligations and to actively desist any moves by the military and its intelligence agents to curb the freedom of expression and speech in Pakistan.
The AHRC urges the government to restore the three channels of Geo TV immediately and guarantee freedom of expression for the media institution, order PEMRA to have a credible, transparent and democratic process in all its regulatory functions, take disciplinary action and conduct an impartial inquiry on the conduct of Justice Shoukat Siddiqui, judge of Islamabad high court for usurping the right of freedom of expression of journalist/anchor-person Mubashir Luqman – with immediate effect.