Curbs on freedom of expression in Pakistan continues: HRCP

LAHORE: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan to take appropriate steps to prohibit and prevent unauthorized, illegal and unlawful interference with freedom of expression in the country.

HRCP office bearers IA Rehman along with other human rights activists stated and shared the fact finding survey on curb on freedom of expression in Pakistan.

They urged protect the right of television channel and news publication owners to function with dignity and in peace.

There should be no interference in the sale and distribution of any newspaper, nor should any TV channels be deliberately displaced.

It stated that the system of issuing ‘press advice’ or press-advice-like ‘instructions’ on the part of state agencies must cease immediately.

IA Rehman explained that over the last several months, numerous journalists in the print and broadcast media have complained of interference with freedom of expression.

They highlighted that following the publication of an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on 12 May 2018, sales agents allege that the distribution of Dawn has been disrupted daily in at least 20 targeted cities and towns.

As far as the television channel management is concerned, the prevailing uncertainty surrounding their ability to broadcast means they stand to lose long-term advertising contracts.

The systematic curtailment of freedom of expression in the form of press advice, intimidation and harassment, reportedly by state or intelligence agencies, has left many journalists and their management too vulnerable to resist.

Verbal press advice, received either on the telephone or during a visit, usually pertains to what should not be published or broadcast.

HRCP’s interviews reveal that the most commonly tabooed subjects are missing persons, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), Baloch separatists and rights activists, the Panama trial and NAB references, the disqualification and arrest of Nawaz Sharif, references to any questionable decisions by the judiciary, allegations of judicial overreach.

Another reportedly common piece of press advice to the broadcast media is that the channel should give greater coverage to PTI rallies and only minimal coverage to other parties’ events.

Many print and broadcast journalists say that a common consequence of ‘disobeying’ instructions is vicious character assassinations through anonymous social media accounts and social networking platforms that go so far as to incite violence against media persons – and in the case of women, rape threats.

Press advice to social media users, especially those critical of state policies, has also increased.

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