Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan since 18 August 2018
Predator since taking office
Pakistan, 145th/180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index
PREDATORY METHOD: The Shadow Master
Imran Khan likes the limelight. A former national cricket team star and fashionable jet-setter attending elegant receptions in European capitals, he dedicated himself to philanthropic activities for a while before entering politics in the 1990s. For years his party struggled, making little headway. But everything changed in the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary elections.
In the shadows, behind candidate Khan, the military reasserted the “deep state,” a euphemism for what in Pakistan means permanent supremacy of the armed forces and the feared military intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), over civilian power. With his ideological mix of populism and religious conservatism, Khan was seen as the ideal candidate to look good on the public stage without ever questioning the all-powerful military’s authority behind the scenes. Let him have the limelight, pro-government media, social media and controversies about the law on blasphemy. In the shadows, the military establishment concentrates on suppressing all forms of independent journalism because it cannot stand anyone meddling in its affairs.
Cases of brazen censorship are legion since Khan became prime minister. Newspaper distribution has been interrupted, media outlets have been threatened with the withdrawal of advertising and TV channel signals have been jammed. Journalists who cross the red lines have been threatened, abducted and tortured. In the shadows, behind Khan in the limelight, Pakistan is reliving some of the worst moments of its past military dictatorships.
FAVOURITE TARGETS: Critics (better watch out)
“Stop covering annoying stories or your family won’t see you alive again.” This, in substance, is the message given to the many journalists and bloggers who have been the targets of kidnappings and death threats since Khan became prime minister. Even those who have chosen to live abroad for security reasons have been subjected to intimidation attempts and physical attacks in the countries where they thought they had found a refuge.
Cyberspace, the last sanctuary for free speech and freely-reported news and information, is being subjected to increasingly draconian censorship measures by Khan’s government, while troll armies harass and vilify all journalists and bloggers who dare express criticism, automatically labelling them as anti-Pakistan, anti-military and... anti-Khan. The circle is complete.
OFFICIAL DISCOURSE: Questionable humour
“Pakistan has one of the freest presses in the world (...) To say there are curbs on the Pakistan press is a joke.” (Press conference in Washington in July 2019, a few hours after viewers of Pakistan’s leading TV news channel, Geo News, suddenly saw their screens go blank.