Fear of silence by The News Editorial

We still do not know who took away senior journalist Matiullah Jan from the school where his wife teaches, or why he was taken away at all. His ‘abduction’ in broad daylight, in the federal capital, by men wearing police uniforms (and others in plain clothes) suggests that this is yet another attempt to intimidate and harass journalists – a trend that has been on the increase in the country. Matiullah was picked up a day before he was due to appear before the Supreme Court to answer contempt charges. Matiullah himself has said he was blindfolded, driven around for some hours and then abandoned a short distance outside Islamabad. As with cases before this, the incident makes it clear that Pakistan is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for working journalists. Other than pure intimidation, no one has been able to explain why anyone would wish to kidnap a jobless journalist without any ability to pay a large ransom or serve any other purpose.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, which took suo-motu notice of the matter, and the IHC hearing a petition filed by Matifullah’s brother both observed that such incidents are unacceptable and that the government needs to provide an explanation. The initial statement by the ministers of information and interior that they know nothing about the matter does very little to calm the apprehensions which now run through the media community and other people in general. The problem is that such incidents inevitably weaken the voice of journalism. Already we see a huge amount of self-censorship within the media. Only a few professionals are today willing to stand up and express their opinions. Naturally even fewer will now be willing to speak out.

Media freedom has been under a consistent assault over the past few years, and the only way to tackle it is through solidarity. A divide-and-rule strategy has been deliberately deployed to keep the media weak. We have seen organised campaigns launched against journalists and media houses, and some in the media are only too eager to join in. The end result is a media that is fearful of doing its job. The media is supposed to speak truth to power but in Pakistan that lofty ideal has rarely been reached due to the crippling restrictions and environment of fear all around. Denying citizens their right to information automatically taints our democracy at all levels, and restricting public debate serves the interests only of the powerful elites. Our brave journalists risk their lives daily by bringing us stories that matter. For them to be silenced deprives all of us of our rights.

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