ISLAMABAD: One third of the journalists facing legal cases filed mainly by the Pakistani state are at risk of being charged under the Anti-Terrorism Law, a research study has found.
Print media practitioners are twice as likely to be the target of legal action that television media practitioners, and Sindh is the most dangerous region for journalists in Pakistan when it comes to the registration of legal cases against them.
The study was been conducted by Pakistani medical rights watchdog the Freedom Network, and is titled In Legal Crosshairs: Using the Law to Punish Journalists — Impunity against Journalists facing Legal Cases in Pakistan.
The report will be launched on the eve of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, which is marked on Nov 2.
The findings are based on analysis of data from 17 journalists against whom legal cases were registered for their work in 2018-19.
The study said there were several legal cases registered against journalists in 2020 as well but these were not included in the research to allow for at least a year to lapse after the registration of cases to track the process of registration, investigation, prosecution and trial.
The study found that journalists in Sindh face three times the risk that their colleagues do in other provinces or in Islamabad.
It also found that more than a third of journalists were being charged under various provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code; nearly a third are at risk for being charged under the ATA, while they are also at risk of being charged under the electronic crimes and defamation laws.
The most frequent allegations (nearly 65pc) under which legal cases are registered against journalists include “acting against state institutions” or “defaming state institutions”.
According to report, the state and its functionaries have emerged as the biggest legal threat to journalists in Pakistan, with 15 out of 17 cases (88.2pc) registered by them, while law enforcement agencies such as the police and the Federal Investigation Agency are the single largest (41.1pc) type of actor registering legal cases against journalists.
More than two-thirds of all journalists that face legal cases have FIRs are registered against them; the rest receive either formal legal notices or court summons.
In nearly 80pc of cases, the initiators were affiliated with various government ministries and departments while individual government officials – often senior ranking bureaucrats – are initiators of the cases against journalists.
Often more than one action is demanded from journalists from those registering legal cases against them.
The most frequent demand (nearly 60pc) is proof of allegations printed or posted by journalists in a court of law and the second most frequent (in more than one-third of cases) demand is for an apology.
The police’s investigation process was only completed in two-thirds of cases and allowed to proceed to court, while for a third of cases, even the charge sheet was not completed.
Of the cases that did proceed to court, around half were declared were fit for trial; overall, barely a third of cases were declared fit for trial.