ISLAMABAD: At least 86 cases of attacks and violations against media and their practitioners, including journalists, took place in Pakistan in one year – between May 2021 and April 2022.

While the total number of violations documented over the past year has dropped several notches, there is a continuing trend to target journalists working for digital media, according to this Freedom Network research and analysis report, a Pakistani award-winning media rights organization. watchdog that continuously monitors violations against journalists and attacks on freedom of expression.

The report, released in Pakistan in 2022 to mark World Press Freedom Day celebrated globally on May 3 every year, finds that state actors continue to be the biggest source of threat to journalists in Pakistan in a period marked by a dramatic escalation of coercion by the former government of Imran Khan resulting in killings, prosecutions, assaults, kidnappings, detentions and threats.

“While the digital media landscape is Pakistan’s new horizon, the government is more than keen to clamp down on online freedom and digital journalists are systematically targeted for harassment, abuse and legal threats.

We must protect our internet freedom without borders,” said Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Freedom Network.

Data shows that no place in Pakistan’s four provinces, the federal capital Islamabad or even Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir is safe – attacks on journalists are happening everywhere.

According to key findings from the Freedom Network Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2022, tracked for the period May 2021 to April 2022: “Scale of media violations in Pakistan and their frequency. At least 86 cases of attacks and violations against journalists and media workers have been documented in Pakistan during the year between May 3, 2021 and April 10, 2021 in all territories of Pakistan, including the four provinces, Islamabad, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. This represents an average of more than seven breaches per month – one every five days.

The top three categories of violations against journalists in Pakistan during the reporting period included (a) 13 cases brought against them (15%) and 13 cases of offline harassment (15%), (b) 11 cases of detention illegal by the authorities (13%) and (c) nine cases of attempted murder (11%) and nine cases of verbal threats (11%).

These six categories of violations – court cases, offline harassment, unlawful detention, attempted murder and verbal threats – constituted 65% of the 83 categories of violations against the media in Pakistan during the period.

Pakistan’s most dangerous regions for journalists: Overall, Islamabad emerged as the riskiest and most dangerous place to practice journalism in Pakistan with 37% of violations (32 out of a total of 86 cases) recorded in the federal capital. Sindh was the second worst with 27% of violations (23 cases) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) the third most dangerous with 19% (16 cases). This is followed by Punjab with 13% (11 cases), Balochistan with about 2% (two cases) and one case each from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

Most Targeted Journalistic Media in Pakistan: Television and Print Media in the Crosshairs: Of the 86 attacks and violations against journalists recorded in Pakistan during the reporting period, television emerged as the biggest victim of the type of media with at least 39 cases. (45%) of cases against its practitioners in relation to print media, radio and the Internet. Print media was the second most targeted medium with 35 journalists working for it targeted (41 percent) while 12 cases (14 percent) were recorded of online journalists targeted. No targeting of a radio journalist has been documented.

Largest threat actors targeting media in Pakistan: In 41% of the 86 documented cases (at least 35 cases) of violations against media professionals in Pakistan – thus the largest threat actor – during the period considered,

victims or their families suspect the state and its authorities and officials of involvement in attacks against them over other influential threat actors. A diverse “other” group with 24% (at least 21 cases) emerged as the second largest threat actor during the reporting period. “Unknown”: the victims and their families, as well as the authorities and their employers, were unable to identify the perpetrators of the violations against 22 journalists (25% of the cases). Surprisingly, another category of threatening actors identified by victims, or their families, was political parties – constituting 4% (3 cases).

Targeting female media practitioners: In at least 3 of the total 86 violations against media practitioners during the reporting period, the targets were female journalists receiving dire threats or harassment.

Digital media journalists targeted: In at least 12 of the 86 violations (or 14%) against media workers during the reporting period, the targets were journalists working with digital media. Among them, 2 of the 4 journalists killed.