Baksheesh Elahi’s murder in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is yet another attack against the journalist fraternity and by extension, free speech in the country. The editor of K2 – an Urdu publication, was on his way home when he was riddled with bullets by unknown attackers. The victim’s family claims that he had no enemies, and this is not surprising – journalists are usually killed because of their work and not because of other personal issues.
And he is not the only one; in 2016, Pakistan was declared to be the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Less than a week ago, Express Tribune journalist Rana Tanveer was run over by a car after he was repeatedly threatened. His crime – report on issues of minorities, the Ahmadiyya community in particular. The sentence he was handed out by extremists, from painting hate slurs outside his house that declared him ‘wajib-ul-qatal’ to the eventual attack that nearly cost him his life, have yet to be investigated by the police despite the obvious danger. If the police willingly refuse to protect journalists, state complicity in their deaths cannot be discounted in the attacks over the years.
But even if the police are successful in apprehending those involved in Baksheesh Elahi’s murder or open a case against Rana Tanveer’s attackers, the larger problem of attacks against members of the press in a bid to silence them continues unabated. From state institutions to extremist outfits, the influential and even the wealthy can use their power to threaten and coerce journalists to stop them from doing their duty. If intimidation does not work in limiting the proliferation of information regarding a specific story, members of the press continuously have to fear for their lives over the work they have produced.
The reaction of the police in the Rana Tanveer case however, paints a bleak picture for the future of the profession in Pakistan. Beyond directly targeting journalists and media houses for reporting the truth, state institutions are not even taking the very tangible threat seriously. Until there is a change in this mindset, more attacks against journalists are to be expected.