Conflict Alerts # 132, 29 July 2020
In the news
On 21 July Matiullah Jan, a senior journalist was abducted in broad daylight, in front of an educational institution in Islamabad, by a group of men who are suspected to be wearing police uniforms (and others in plainclothes). The abduction was captured by the school's CCTV camera which later went viral on social media.
Political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights organizations and many diplomats expressed their concerns and opposition members took to Twitter to express their outrage against Jan's abduction.
Matiullah's brother approached the Islamabad High Court and filed habeas corpus petition and lodged an FIR against the unidentified persons under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The journalist was in the limelight with his 'contemptuous' tweets regarding Justice Isa's case decision. He was picked up a day before his appearance in Supreme Court and was released after 12 hours. On the related judgment, the Supreme Court had granted two weeks to Matiullah Jan to engage with his counsel and submit his reply regarding his tweets.
Issues at large
First, the threat to journalists. This is not the first time a Pakistan journalist has been intimidated or harassed. Hamid Mir got shot in 2014; Ahmed Noorani attacked in 2017; Taha Siddiqui was beaten by 10-12 armed men in 2018; Gul Bukhari abducted in 2019. The abduction of a journalist in Pakistan is not a new phenomenon. Further, many news channels have also been banned with many columns being terminated. This has become a trend in Pakistan.
Second, the threat to freedom of life and speech. In the last six years, 33 journalists have been murdered and eight killings between November 2018 and November 2019. As of now, those who have been killed have not received justice.
Third, increasing intervention of the State. The Chief Justice of Islamabad High Court, stated, "The way a journalist was picked up in broad daylight, have all institutions been destroyed?... How did anyone, wearing a police uniform, dare to abduct a person?". The abduction had raised many questions over the security concerns among the legal, fraternity, political parties in diplomatic circles. The court also slammed the police for the kidnapping saying, the entire State was responsible for the incident
Fourth, the rise of international attention. Soon after the abduction Canada's High Commissioner to Pakistan Wendy Gilmour tweeted, "Very worrying development: the role of the media in a democracy is crucial and must be protected. I trust that @Matiullahjan919 will be soon safely reunited with his family". German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck tweeted, "Concerned to hear the news about the disappearance of @Matiullahjan919 today. Developments underline once again how dangerous the situation of journalists in #Pakistan is. Journalists' safety is key for media freedom".
There is a growing intolerance against the media in Pakistan. Actors - State or otherwise, have become unfriendly and intolerant to outspoken critics.
However, on the positive side, social media has become more powerful in recent years in Pakistan. Many journalists have started adopting different platforms to come forward in expressing their views.