Pakistan No Safer For Journalists Despite Legislation: Report

Freedom Network says attacks against journalists have intensified after the promulgation of specific laws to tackle violence against journalists

Pakistan No Safer For Journalists Despite Legislation: Report

Around two years ago, Pakistan made history as the first country in the world to legislate specifically on the safety of journalists and against impunity for their attackers. But the situation has, in some cases, only worsened with attacks rising, stated an annual report on journalist safety.

The report was prepared by Freedom Network and is titled "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back – Pakistan Legislates on Safety of Journalists, But Still Fails to Protect Them."

The report has been launched ahead of the International Day to End Impunity, which falls on November 2. It noted that in 2021, Sindh and the National Assembly passed the "Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act-2021" in the space of a few months – legal frameworks that reflected an acknowledgement by the country that it needed to tackle the problem of violence against journalists and combat impunity through legal guarantees. However, other provinces such as Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and the two territories of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, have yet to pass similar laws for their jurisdictions. 

The report noted that it was ironic that most attacks against journalists took place in regions which had passed legislation aimed at ensuring their safety.  

The report noted that at least 37.5% of the violations in Pakistan – 93 out of 248 cases recorded between August 2021 and August 2023, took place in Islamabad alone. 

Sindh was the second worst region in Pakistan, with 22.5% of the violations (56 cases). It noted that Sindh was the first province in the country to promulgate laws for the safety of journalists in late 2021, with the “Sindh Protection of Journalists and other Media Practitioners Act-2021”. Despite that, it continued to record an alarming increase in cases of persecuting journalists, especially by government authorities and state agencies, including kidnapping, physical assaults and serious legal cases against them for unproven charges of sedition, treason and electronic crimes. 

At least 11 journalists were killed or lost their lives in the line of duty during the same period. 

International ranking

The report noted that Pakistan was ranked 157 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Border’s World Press Freedom Index for 2021. The index was released before the laws were passed. 

In 2023, the country improved its freedom rank to 150 owing to the two laws. But that is where the progress stops. 

"It is very disturbing to see the good work of the two legislatures – the Sindh Assembly and the federal parliament – diluted by not making the laws fully operational to provide protection to journalists," said Iqbal Khattak, the Executive Director of Freedom Network, while releasing the report. 

"Both the federal and Sindh governments are responsible for effectively dysfunctionalising their laws and therefore delaying and effectively denying justice to journalists," he added.

Khattak said that while it was an administration led by former prime minister Imran Khan which passed the law, the subsequent government led by Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) did little to implement the law in his 16 months in power. 

"In these two years, both the Imran and Shehbaz governments failed to establish a safety commission mandated by the law, which meant that in effect, the federal law remained non-operationalised and hence failed to help a single of the 93 journalists in Islamabad that were killed, attacked, injured, threatened or harassed in the two years since its enactment. The two governments also failed to enforce the law," the report quoted Khattak. 

In Sindh, Khattak said that while the law was passed in June 2021 by the provincial assembly and was officially notified in August 2021, the Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners (CPJMP) envisioned under the law was notified over a year later in December 2022 when respected jurist Rasheed A Razvi was appointed as its first chairperson. 

"Even after the commission was set up to ensure enforcement of the law, the Sindh government, until August 2023, had failed to provide either an office, staff or a formal budget for its operations, thereby procedurally hampering its operations and severely restricting the commission’s ability to provide protection, relief and justice for the growing number of violations against journalists and media entities in Sindh province," the report notes. 

To Razvi’s credit, the report noted, he continued to work without any operational resources and was able to help several journalists in Sindh who were either kidnapped or attacked by issuing notices to the provincial authorities, including law enforcement agencies, to either recover or safeguard the journalists. 

"His orders were complied, indicating that if resourced properly, the commission can help reduce impunity of crimes against journalists and media in Sindh," according to the report.


For Pakistan to benefit from the promise of two legislations on journalists’ safety, the report made three recommendations:

1. Urgent formation of a safety commission under the federal Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 

2. appropriate and adequate resourcing, including budget, office and staff for Sindh’s Commission for the Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners and,

3. enactment of similar journalists’ safety laws by Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab after legislative assemblies are elected in these provinces in the 2024 provincial elections. 

“Pakistan has a golden opportunity to become one of the strongest global performers in combating impunity for crimes against journalists with presence now on its statute books of the two specialist journalists’ safety legislations, thanks to the efforts of many stakeholders over several years, especially the Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition,” the report said, adding, “But for this promise to materialize, these three recommendations must be implemented on priority.”