Pakistani Government Criticized for Shutting Down Journalists
Mere hours after Prime Minister Imran Khan reached Washington D.C. for a state visit and meeting with President Trump, Pakistan’s most popular private television channel, Geo News, was abruptly blocked, or, in certain regions, moved to a new channel number.
The incident, which occurred last week, has prompted many to speak out against censorship under Prime Minister Khan.
“The blockage (...) is an unfortunate illustration of how widespread censorship has become in Pakistan," the Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Steven Butler, said in a statement last week.
"U.S. officials who meet with Khan should make clear that these blatant attacks on press freedom are unacceptable.”
Since Khan took power last fall, journalists, opposition party leaders, and activists have been targeted for their critical assessments of his government and the country’s powerful military establishment.
In September, CPJ issued a press freedom report that described how the Pakistani military is “quietly, but effectively” promoting self-censorship among the country’s journalists through “intimidation” tactics.
Meanwhile, activists are claiming the army is seizing control of the media environment, forcing outlets like Geo TV and Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper, into line.
“Major media groups are under severe pressure to sack some of their key vocal journalists, including editors and senior reporters,” a veteran journalist told OCCRP, on the condition of anonymity. "There has been a broader effort recently by the security establishment to censor critical political voices.
Various websites that have been covering the military’s human rights abuses have been shut down, including the Islamabad office of Mashaal Radio, a station associated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Urdu service of U.S. government-funded Voice of America.
Two weeks ago, Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party fiercely attacked critical press coverage in a series of tweets, calling it “anti-state” and likening it to “treason” against the Pakistani people.
"Freedom of Expression is beauty of Democracy. Expressing Enemy's Stance is Not Freedom of speech but treason against its people," the PTI account tweeted. The government urged media to portray a positive image of Pakistan.
Pakistan frequently ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists and media workers, where reporters have been harassed, detained and murdered for their role in reporting against the state and the military.
This article has been corrected to clarify that Mashaal Radio's Islamabad office was closed down, and that Voice of America is a U.S. government-funded outlet.