Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday decried an unprecedented crackdown campaign by the Shehbaz Sharif government against media houses and journalists who are carrying his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI's) narrative to the public.
This accusation comes as an executive of Pakistani broadcaster ARY News, deemed to be backing the PTI chief, was arrested on sedition charges on August 10, with several more media workers named in First Information Reports (FIRs), following the interruption of the station's broadcast on August 9.
Several national and international media watchdogs had called on the Pakistani authorities to immediately cease all legal action against the ARY News employees and withdraw the transmission suspension orders.
"I want to warn our nation of an unprecedented crackdown campaign by Imported govt & State machinery against media houses & journalists who are carrying PTI & my narrative to the public. Two journalists, Arshad Sharif & Sabir Shakir, have had to leave Pak fearing for their lives," Imran Khan tweeted.
The PTI chief said he will take up the issue of media freedom and freedom of expression during his mass public campaign across Pak from next week.
"Others like Imran Riaz, Sami Ibrahim, Ayaz Amir have suffered threats, violent attacks and arrest. In my mass public campaign across Pak from next week, I will take up issue of media freedom and freedom of expression. If we allow these terror tactics, designed simply to target PTI and myself, to succeed, then we will be returning to the dark days of dictatorship when there was no independent media & no room for freedom of expression," he added.
Pakistan currently sits at the 157th spot on the press freedom index of watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
It says that Pakistan oscillates between civil society's quest for greater press freedom and the political and military elite's constant reassertion of extensive control over the media.
"Despite changes in political power, a recurring theme is apparent: political parties in opposition support press freedom but are first to restrict it when in power. Pakistan's media regulators are directly controlled by the government and systematically put defence of the executive government before the public's right to information," according to the Paris-based watchdog.
As the military has tightened its grip on civilian institutions, coverage of military and intelligence agency interference in politics has become off limits for journalists. Under the guise of protecting journalism, Pakistani law is used to censor any criticism of the government and the armed forces.
Pakistan is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished, according to RSF.
Any journalist who crosses the red lines dictated by the Pakistan military is liable to be the target of in-depth surveillance that could lead to abduction and detention for varying lengths of time in the state's prisons or less official jails. (ANI)