Hailing from the downtrodden Christian community of Dera Ismail Khan, Qais Javed was determined, right from his childhood, not to follow in his parents’ professional footsteps — both were sanitation workers.
After doing a number of trivial jobs, he finally succeeded in 2007 to find a job as cameraman with Geo News, a leading news channel of the country. His association with Geo News came to an end in 2016 when he decided to start his Facebook page, Ehadnama.
“My life, as compared to my parents’, is far better and hopefully the life of my children would be much better than mine,” he told me in October last year in his hometown. The topic of the discussion was the issue of ‘untouchability’ that religious minorities in Pakistan, especially those associated with sanitation work, are faced with.
But his dream couldn’t come true — he was gunned down in his hometown on December 7, 2020. Hitherto, neither provincial and federal governments nor the journalists’ unions announced any financial support for the children —12-year-old son Ehad and seven-year-old daughter Shabi — he left behind.
The police have yet to make any substantial headway into the crime.
“Qais was a thorough professional and covered a number of terrorist attacks, including the audacious DI Khan jailbreak in July 2009,” recalled Saeedullah Marwat, a former colleague. He remembers Qais not only as a good cameraman always ready for on-the-spot coverage of deadly terrorist attacks, but also an outstanding non-linear editor.
The killing of Qais Javed is not the first case, and for obvious reasons not the last one.
For several years, international media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute and International Federation of Journalists have listed Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.
Freedom Network — a Pakistani media rights watchdog — puts the number of journalists killed in Pakistan since 2000 at over 140.
According to the Freedom Network’s Annual Press Freedom Report 2020, at least 91 cases including seven murders of journalists and a blogger; attacks and other violations against media and its practitioners have been documented in Pakistan over the course of one year — between May 2019 and April 2020 — portraying an alarming climate of intimidation and harassment adversely affecting freedom of expression and access to information in the country.
The report further states that a relatively new form of persecution and threat has surfaced in materialised in Pakistan in recent years — registering legal cases against journalists and entangling them in litigation as a way of punishment.
Over the course of 2018-19 Freedom Network has succeeded to find out at least 17 legal cases against journalists across Pakistan – the four provinces and the federal capital – for which it has been able to get complete data from them, including copies of the legal notices and police first investigation reports (FIRs) lodged against them and details of the trials.
“Analysis of their data and details of the progress in the legal framework and processes reveal startling insights into Pakistan’s legal system and its inability to provide justice to most journalists who are victims of persecution related to their journalism work,” the report adds.
Talking to Sabaat, Muhammad Aftab Alam — an Islamabad-based lawyer and public policy researcher focusing on media freedom and journalists’ safety — said that during the last two decades, the threat-actors have constantly changed. Before the advent of the war on terror, these were local criminal gangs and individuals journalists were writing stories about.
The threat-actors changed from 2002 onward, as the Taliban and at times security agencies started threatening media persons to get their version of the story highlighted more.
This is why the role of journalists in conflict-hit areas of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas was just confined to filing news reports, relying on statistics provided either by the militants or the military.
“The threat-actors,” Alam added, “once again changed in 2018 as the state starting persecuting journalists through certain pressure tactics, including unannounced and unprecedented censorship policies.”