Pakistan's war on journalism: Abduction and arrest of prominent journalists

Screenshot of 2022 World Press Freedom Index - ranking of Pakistan. Published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Fair use.

Screenshot of 2022 World Press Freedom Index ranking of Pakistan. Published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Fair use.

Journalists in Pakistan continue to face harassment, arrest, and abduction for reporting on sensitive political issues. Ahead of World Press Freedom Day 2023, it is worth remembering that press freedom is a fundamental pillar of any democratic society, and it is the government's responsibility to ensure that journalists are able to perform their duties without fear of reprisals.

In the year 2023, several Pakistani journalists have been arrested, including Shahid Aslam, a reporter for BOL news, for using leaked tax data in his reporting. Aslam is known for being a vocal critic of the Pakistani military. The authorities arrested Aslam on January 13, and accused him of being involved in a FactFocus article published on November 19, 2022, which revealed the assets of former Pakistani Army General Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family and detailed how they amassed wealth over the past six years.

Steven Butler, a journalist and the Senior Program Consultant of the Committee to Protect Journalists, tweeted:

International watchdogs have ranked Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In recent years, several prominent journalists and media workers have been targeted and killed, with a significant number of these cases remaining unresolved.

Arrest, abduction and killing of prominent journalists

Arshad Sharif, a renowned Pakistani investigative journalist known for his fearless reporting on sensitive issues and criticism of Pakistan's military, was fatally shot in Nairobi, Kenya, on October 23, 2022. His murder serves as a tragic reminder of the perils that journalists in Pakistan often face.

After the killing, his wife Javeria Siddique demanded answers from the government, tweeting:

In early 2023, journalist Syed Fawad Ali Shah was tracked down and found imprisoned in Pakistan after he was reported missing in Malaysia in late 2022. Shah was known for a series of investigative stories on cases of enforced disappearances by military and intelligence agencies in Pakistan. In 2011, he was abducted and detained by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for three and a half months, after which he fled from Pakistan.

Earlier in 2022, a senior crime reporter, Hasnain Shah, was ruthlessly shot and killed in broad daylight near Lahore Press Club.

Khaleej Magazine tweeted about the attacks on press freedom in Pakistan:

Syed Iqrar Ul Hassan, a renowned journalist known for his TV program Sar-e-Aam, which often employs sting operations to expose corruption and injustice in Pakistan, was brutally beaten up for uncovering corruption in the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau.

A worrying trend

Unfortunately, the situation for journalists in Pakistan has been steadily declining over the years, with increasing incidents of arrests, abductions, and violence against them. This concerning trend not only violates fundamental human rights but also poses a threat to democracy and the rule of law. The general public relies on journalists to provide them with information and hold those in power accountable. When journalists are silenced, the public is left in the dark, allowing corruption and abuse to continue unquestioned.

Journalists who work in conflict zones, such as Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are particularly vulnerable to threats from militant groups, criminal gangs, and unidentified state actors. According to data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 61 journalists have been deliberately targeted and killed in Pakistan since 1992.

Pakistan's ranking on the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), is 157 out of 180, which indicates why there is concern about the state of press freedom in the country.

Despite the dire situation for journalists in Pakistan, there are also glimmers of hope. Journalist Muhammad Awab Anjum from Islamabad shares his thoughts in his blog:

While Pakistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press, the reality is that journalists in the country face significant challenges in carrying out their work. Despite this, there are many dedicated journalists and organisations that continue to advocate for press freedom and work to hold those in power accountable. It is important for the government to take action to address the challenges facing journalists and to create an environment that fosters free and independent media.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.