Pakistani election campaign marred by press freedom violations
Pakistanis will go to the polls to choose their next government on 25 July after an arduous and aggressive election campaign that was particularly trying for journalists, who have been the targets of arrests and a great deal of violence. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns these flagrant press freedom violations and urges the authorities to let the media cover the elections with complete freedom.
RSF and its Pakistani partner, Freedom Network (FN) already wrote to the interim government in June to voice concern about the many abuses targeting journalists and media, including the blocking of the newspaper Dawn’s distribution, abductions, break-ins and acts of violence.
“With just days to go to the elections, we have seen an increase in censorship of the media and an increase in violence against journalists who have dared to cover the election campaign in its entirety,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said.
“The military’s desire to control media coverage is indicative of a refusal to submit to this exercise of democracy. We urge the authorities to allow journalists to practice their profession freely and to cover the course of the elections and the results, whatever they may be.”
The authorities issued a ban on all media coverage of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s arrest on his arrival in Lahore on 13 July, a week after being sentenced to ten years in prison. Many media outlets complied with the ban and censored themselves, while Internet access and telecommunications networks were blocked.
Kadafi Zaman, a Norwegian journalist who was covering demonstrations in Gujrat in support of Sharif’s party, the PML-N, for the television channel TV2, was badly beaten by police on 13 July and was arrested on charges of attempted murder and disrupting public order, although he had showed his press card to the police. He was finally released on bail a few days later.
Zaibdar Marri, a correspondent for TV Express News and president of the local press club, has been missing since 13 July in Kohlu, in the southwestern province of Balochistan. Witnesses say he was kidnapped by unidentified men while covering the election campaign of a local politician whose candidacy is not supported by the military, which is accused of trying to rig the election in favour of Imran Khan’s PTI party.
In the run-up to the elections, RSF recommends that the Pakistani authorities:
- Respect and ensure the right of the population to freedom of information and to allow independent coverage of the election campaign.
- Ensure that the security forces refrain from any act of violence against journalists (including abduction and torture).
- Ensure effective protection of the rights of journalists and their physical safety during the elections and protests, and place this issue at the centre of the election.
- Undertake systematic and thorough investigations of crimes against journalists, followed by the effective prosecution of those responsible before independent courts, in order to reinforce the rule of law and to end impunity for such crimes.
- Allow journalists to safely report on official events.
- Authorise media coverage in Balochistan and Sindh.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.