— Pakistan’s Press Freedom Status and Net Freedom Status: Not Free
Freedom House, in its Freedom in the World 2018 report has ranked Pakistan 4.5 out of 7 (where 1: most free and 7: least free) in its freedom ratings. The country ranked 4 and 5 out of 7 in freedom of political rights and civil liberties respectively.
Freedom in the World has been published since 1973, allowing Freedom House to track global trends in freedom over more than 40 years. It has become the most widely read and cited the report of its kind, used on a regular basis by policymakers, journalists, academics, activists, and many others.
By global population, 39 per cent of the world is considered ‘free’, 24 per cent ‘partly free’, and 37 per cent ‘not free’. Moreover, the report found out that democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law came under attack around the world.
The report ranked Pakistan based on its electoral process, political pluralism and participation, the functioning of the government, freedom of expression and belief, associational and organisational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy and individual rights.
Regarding Pakistan, the report said, “Pakistan holds regular elections under a competitive multiparty political system. However, the military exerts enormous influence over security and other policy issues, intimidates the media, and enjoys impunity for indiscriminate or extra-legal use of force”, it noted.
It further said that the authorities impose selective restrictions on civil liberties, and Islamist militants carry out attacks on religious minorities and other perceived opponents.
Under the head of ‘Political Rights and Civil Liberties’, the report answered the question whether the current head of government or other chief national authority was elected through free and fair elections and if the electoral laws and framework fair and implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies.
It noted the Supreme Court’s July 2017 ruling regarding Nawaz Sharif – that he had violated a vague constitutional clause requiring parliament members to be “honest” by failing to disclose certain assets in his nomination papers, and he was forced to step down.
“Sharif was replaced as prime minister by his party’s nominee, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, then the minister of petroleum and natural resources. Critics of the ruling noted that the court had accepted, without a trial, the findings of an ad hoc investigative panel that included military members, and many observers tied Sharif’s ouster to his long-standing rivalry with the military over control of foreign policy and national security matters”, it added.
The report stated that the participation of non-Muslims in the political system continues to be marginal.
Political parties nominate members to legislative seats reserved for non-Muslim minorities, leaving non-Muslim voters with little say in selecting the parliamentarians who supposedly represent them. “Ahmadis, members of a heterodox Muslim sect, face political discrimination and are registered on a separate voter roll,” states Freedom House in its report.
Pakistan has a vibrant media sector that presents a range of news and opinions, the report noted.
In response to its question regarding a free and fair media in the country, the report states that in 2017, the media were able to cover political and legal controversies involving Sharif and his government with relative freedom—particularly English-language outlets whose smaller audiences afforded them more leeway to challenge powerful interests.
However, state agencies can curb media content through a variety of laws and regulations when they deem it necessary.
It adds that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) awards radio and television licenses, maintains a code of conduct, and exercises the power to suspend operators. There is also a history of violence and intimidation selectively directed against media figures by military intelligence agencies and violent extremist groups. Several journalists were shot and killed during the year, and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists confirmed that at least one was murdered in connection with his work.
Regarding academic freedom, and if the educational system is free from extensive political indoctrination, the report states that Pakistani authorities have a long history of using education to portray Hindus and other non-Muslims negatively and to rationalize enmity between Pakistan and India, among other ideological aims.
Past attempts to modernize education and introduce tolerance into school textbooks have made little progress.
Regarding the independence of the judiciary, the report states that the removal of Prime Minister Sharif in 2017 demonstrated the Supreme Court’s independence from the civilian executive, but critics accused the court of making a politicized decision based on a narrow technicality after a flawed process, and of acting in concert with the wishes of the military.
The report, however, also noted that the broader court system is marred by endemic problems including corruption, intimidation, insecurity, a large backlog of cases, and low conviction rates for serious crimes.