LAHORE: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has taken notice of the sharp decline in press freedom in Pakistan over the last several months, which has coincided with the emergence of a strong grassroots movement in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
In a statement issued to mark World Press Freedom Day, HRCP has censured the recent escalation in press harassment, intimidation and attempts to curb people’s freedom of expression, as well as, their access to information.
The HRCP has pointed to two incidents that stand out in this alarming pattern. The first concerns the recent ban on Geo TV. The fact that the ban was not sanctioned by PEMRA, the government’s media regulatory body, or by the federal information ministry is a cause for serious concern.
The second is that several regular English-language columns, critical of the skewed relationship between citizens and the state—written against the backdrop of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)—were deleted from newspapers’ online editions.
Neither development augurs well at a time when the country is preparing to hold a general election in just under two months.
Apart from these attempts to muzzle reportage and analysis of socio-political developments that should count as instances of ordinary people exercising their constitutional freedom of assembly and expression, there has been little movement on the fate of people who have gone ‘missing’ after having written critically about pro-establishment narratives.
On World Press Freedom Day, Pakistan needs to take stock of the repercussions of attempting to gag its press when it needs the latter most.