Journalists In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Navigate Threats: Legal Battles, Attacks, And Unfinished Protections
Malik Ismail has been employed with a private Pashto language TV channel in Peshawar for the past six years, encountering numerous legal challenges due to his reporting.
On November 24, 2018, he reported on corruption in recruiting lecturers at the University of Mardan, prompting the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to take notice. Subsequently, a case was filed against Malik Ismail by the university in PEMRA on November 25, 2018, with a cybercrime case registered by FIA for spreading the news on social media. However, this case has been put on hold due to the transfer of inquiry officers in FIA and the lack of interest from the plaintiff.
Ismail also received a damages notice from Nahaqi Eye Hospital, but the issue was resolved through talks between the channel and the hospital management. After reporting the rape of a girl in Jalal Kayi Mardan on September 28, 2019, Ismail faced an accusation of accepting a bribe of Rs. 83 lakh, but that case has been closed. Threats of serious consequences were received after reporting the killing of DSP Sardar Hussain in Peshawar. Reporting the theft of cornea from the eye department of Khyber Teaching Hospital resulted in a notice of heavy damages, and the case is currently ongoing in the session court of Peshawar.
Malik Ismail stated, “No enmity with anyone. Due to journalistic responsibilities and news, many people have become my mortal enemies. Due to notices from many people and institutions, I am facing legal action. It has now become the norm.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, as many journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas face similar challenges. According to data from the Pakistan Press Foundation, more than 100 journalists received threatening calls or were directly threatened from 2013 to 2023. Additionally, journalists faced arrests and suspicions, leading to encounters with police and security agencies.
According to the Human Rights Commission’s annual report ‘Situation of Human Rights in 2022,’ Khadim Afridi was arrested by the CTD from Khyber district, while journalist Ehsanullah Shakir was arrested by the elite police force in Lower Dir for covering student protests, and his camera and mobile were taken away.
Peshawar’s senior journalist Musaratullah Jan reported using stolen electricity in the Tehmas Khan Sports Stadium mosque on June 10, 2023. An application was made to file an FIR, but now the matter has been settled.
On 30 August 2023, the district police chief charged Fayyaz Zafar, a journalist representing a private TV channel from Swat, with spreading hatred through social media and making statements against government institutions, and wrote a letter for arrest under (3 MPO) on which District Magistrate Swat issued orders to arrest under 3 MPO.
Zafar was arrested by the police from his office in Mingora on August 30 and transferred to jail, but later, on the intervention of senior journalists and the caretaker Federal Minister for Information Murtaza Solangi, he was released from jail on August 31, 2023. Fayyaz Zafar said that he was arrested for protesting for peace, security, and human rights. He also expressed his determination that, for the sake of the country, he would be ready for any kind of sacrifice at all times.
Similarly, there have been many incidents of journalists being prevented from coverage and assaulted by the administration and political parties.
Tayyab Afridi, the editor of the news website TNN, shed light on the measures organizations are taking to assist threatened journalists. Afridi emphasized the importance of a reporter’s life and shared that all potential risks are considered before publishing sensitive news. If content poses a risk to the reporter, it is removed. Journalists facing legal proceedings are connected with national and international journalists’ aid organizations for legal and financial assistance. The institution itself takes a stand on behalf of the reporter, providing legal support and engaging with relevant institutions. If a reporter’s life is under threat, full support is offered in seeking asylum abroad.
Laws protecting journalists in case of legal action involve adherence to professional responsibilities, with legal consequences under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) if convicted of a crime, according to legal expert Tariq Afghan Advocate. He noted that defamation cases against journalists may arise, and the judicial process is initiated based on the notice served to the media organization or the concerned reporter. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, such issues are occasionally resolved through Jirga.
Tariq Afghan Advocate highlighted the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act 2021, passed by the National Assembly, providing rights to life and security (Section 3), privacy and non-disclosure of sources (Section 4), protection against torture and intolerable behavior (Section 7), and protection against harassment (Section 8). However, he acknowledged insufficient implementation, leading to challenges faced by journalists.
President of Khyber Union of Journalists (KHUJ) Nasir Hussain referred to the Freedom Network’s Press Freedom Report 2023, revealing the threats faced by journalists. He questioned the safety of journalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, considering the threats in the federal capital. Despite the efforts and assurances, the Journalist Protection Bill has not been passed in the provincial assembly.
Former Assistant Commissioner for Information Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif credited the PTI government and former Information Minister Kamran Bangash for their efforts in drafting the Journalist Protection Bill. However, the bill remained incomplete after the government’s term ended.
Nasir Hussain emphasized the value of life over news and urged journalists to prioritize safety measures. He encouraged journalists to“give news, don’t be news,” emphasizing that safety considerations can overcome many challenges.
Director General Information Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mohammad Imran highlighted the collaborative efforts with senior journalists, including the Khyber Union of Journalists and Peshawar Press Club, in formulating the bill since 2015.
Former opposition member in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, Sobia Shahid, criticized the Tehreek-e-Insaf government for not legislating for journalists’ collective interests. She alleged that laws benefiting the government were passed without following constitutional methods, suppressing opposition voices.