QUETTA/PARIS - Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual report released Wednesday, with the restive Balochistan a hotspot for violence.
Seven reporters were killed in the line of duty in 2013, the report said, blaming the government's "unwillingness to administer justice".
By comparison, ten journalists were killed in Syria, eight in the Philippines and seven in Somalia.
Placing Pakistan as the 158th country out of 180 on its Press Freedom Index, the report noted: "The government appears powerless in the Taliban... and the military establishment, which is known as a 'state within a state' among many international observers."
Four of the deaths occurred in Balochistan, which is wracked by violence and a long-running ethnic insurgency.
Cameraman Imran Shaikh and his colleague Saifur Rehman were among those killed after rushing to cover a bomb which hit Quetta in January 2013.
Both men died after being hit by a second blast that occurred ten minutes after the first.
Shaikh's widow, Shazia Bano, told AFP the family lived in constant threat, but he continued his work regardless.
"He was not scared and used to say that it is our job and we have to do it... I used to force him to quit his job as journalist but he replied, what I should do if I quit?"
While Shaikh and Rehman were caught up in militant violence, other journalists fall victim to the powerful interests linked to the government or intelligence agencies.
Riaz Baloch, another Baloch journalist who published a story about a pro-government figure linked to a car theft operation, told AFP he was kidnapped, tortured, and detained for nearly 60 days.
"They took me to mountains... where I was subjected to severe torture and I was asked ... why I published the news."
Pakistan's constitution theoretically protects freedom of speech, and the media is seen as having taken great strides in recent years. But certain subjects, particularly criticism concerning the all-powerful army and spy agencies, remain taboo.
Last year Pakistan was placed 159 out of 179 countries in the index, with nine journalists killed.
Besides Pakistan, conflicts continued to weigh heavily on the media last year throughout the world but press freedom was also under increasing threat from abuses by democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders said.
In its annual World Press Freedom Index, the Paris-based media rights watchdog warned of the "growing threat worldwide" from the "tendency to interpret national security needs in an overly broad and abusive manner".
The United States was singled out for its pursuit of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, the conviction of WikiLeaks informer Bradley Manning and the secret seizure of phone records from the Associated Press.
The group, known by its French acronym RSF, said the United States had suffered "one of the most significant declines" in press freedom last year, dropping 13 places to 46th in the 180-country index, wedged between Romania and Haiti.
"Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it," RSF said.
Syria remained especially deadly for journalists last year, with RSF reporting nearly 130 media professionals killed in the country since its conflict began in March 2011. Syria's overall ranking of fourth from the bottom was unchanged, but RSF has raised concerns about a surge in kidnappings.
Armed conflicts hurt press freedom elsewhere, with Mali falling 22 spots to 122nd and the Central African Republic dropping 43 places to 109th.
The top-ranked countries were Finland, The Netherlands and Norway, unchanged from last year.
At the bottom again were Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan, described by RSF as "news and information black holes and living hells for the journalists who inhabit them".
Britain dropped three places in the ranking to 33rd, with RSF blaming the "disgraceful pressure" it put on newspaper The Guardian over its reporting of Snowden's revelations of widespread spying by the US National Security Agency.
In Asia, Japan dropped five spots to 59th, with RSF criticising the adoption late last year of a new "intelligence protection" law that stiffens penalties for those who spill state secrets.
China, which dropped one spot to 175th, "continues to censor and jail dissident bloggers and journalists", RSF said.
Bulgaria remained the lowest-ranked European Union country in the index, but was "closely challenged" by Greece, which is ranked 99th after years of financial pressure on the media and some violence against journalists.
The report also highlighted "noteworthy rises" in countries where "violence against journalists, direct censorship and misuse of judicial proceedings are on the decline" - including in Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.