Category: REPORTS

18 Mar
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Technical Stakeholders’ Consultations to Formulate Holistic Operational Strategies for Legal Cell in Combating Impunity of Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan

With the UNESCO / Global Media Defence Fund (GMDF) support for “Reducing High Impunity in Crimes Against Journalists in Pakistan through Prosecution and Litigation”, the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) – an independent Pakistani registered social development organization – has established specialized legal cell in December 2020 ‘to provide free legal aid to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan and hold federal and provincial governments accountable through strategic litigation on their failure to enact special legislation on safety of journalists.’

To develop holistic operational strategies for effectiveness of the legal cell in combating impunity of crimes against journalists and online information practitioners in Pakistan, IRADA is currently conducting a series of technical consultations with the stakeholders across the country. In three of the five technical consultations, a large number of representatives of unions of journalists, digital media / journalism platforms, legal fraternity and academia participated and contribute to formulation of a collective strategy to make Pakistan’s journalists and information practitioners safer. These consultations have been organized at Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad. Remaining two consultations will be conducted in Karachi and Quetta before end of this March.

The participants of the consultations stressed upon the need for an institutionalized response – such as this Legal Cell – to the state actors’ authoritarian and dictatorial practices and non-state actors’ illegal and criminal actions against journalists and freedom of expression in the country. While appreciating the establishment of the legal cell, participants underlined importance of an inclusive approach in extending support to all journalists, especially those from socially marginalized segments such as women and religious minorities.

The participants were informed that the rate of success / relief in the cases, which are supported through the legal cell, is 100%  so far. The participants, therefore, suggested to comprehensively document the support provided through the legal cell and benefits. They argued that this documentation will help legal cell to determine nature of threats and develop a systematic response through pre-determined set of solutions.

Given geographical spread of the crimes against the journalists across the country, both in urban centres and rural areas, the participants suggest to extend legal support to the journalists in remote areas as well. Creating liaison between provincial bar councils and association and journalists’ unions through the legal cell will also help combat the culture of impunity of crimes against the journalists at local level as well, participants suggested. Role of academia, particularly law and journalism schools, in sensitizing next generation of legal experts and journalists through clinical education was also highlighted.

Latest of these consultations held in Islamabad on March 16, 2021.

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04 Feb
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IRADA launches legal cell to defend journalists in courts of law

Islamabad (February 05, 2021): The Institute of Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), a research organization based in Islamabad, has set up a specialized legal cell to provide free legal assistance to journalists. The cell, that includes experienced practitioners of constitutional, civil and criminal laws from Islamabad and the four provincial capitals, will work in coordination with the Journalists Defence Committee of Pakistan Bar Council (PBCJDC). It will provide free legal assistance to journalists facing threats, attacks, restrictions and/or judicial peril during the rightful exercise of their professional duties in Pakistan.

Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of IRADA, described the purposes of the cell to increase safety and security for journalists working in all the different parts of the country. He said, “Journalists in Pakistan have been under tremendous pressure during the last two decades. They have faced enormous challenges ranging from assaults, intimidation, harassment and kidnappings to target killing and terrorism.” He also pointed out that physical and online safety of journalists has remained a serious problem in Pakistan since 2001 as more than 130 of them have lost their lives during this period.

Mr Alam regretted the fact that only less than 5 per cent of cases in which journalists were killed have been heard by courts. This, according to him, is mainly due to the absence of institutionalized mechanism to counter impunity in crimes against journalists. “On the other hand, legal action against journalists, particularly under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) of 2016, has increase which is adding to the already enormous curbs on the freedom of expression in the country, he said. “The unfortunate aspect of these actions is that journalists were mostly left to fend for themselves as their employers did not bother to come to their aid,” he added.

To change this situation for the better, Mr Alam stressed the need to introduce a mechanism that could provide legal assistance to journalists in distress whether due to the actions of the state or by the activities of the non-state actors. “IRADA’s legal cell has been set up to fulfill that need. It will offer the much needed ‘pro bono’ support to journalists facing legal charges and challenges,” he said.

He also explained the cell’s mandate as “assisting journalists in their work-related legal problems including civil, criminal and/or any other charges they might be facing before a court of law and/or administrative entity”. The cell, according to him, also aims at initiating strategic litigation in order to create legal precedents for the protection of both journalists and the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

Mr Alam said, “Anyone engaged in the business of producing and disseminating news and facing legal (civil or criminal) charges can approach the cell for assistance. This assistance can range from the provision of legal opinion to defending journalist in courts of law.”

He also explained that that a three-member committee, consisting of the nominees of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and IRADA, will oversee the functioning of the cell. The committee will be authorized to decide whether the cell should accept a request for assistance and what should be the extent of its support in each case. A dedicated email account (legal@irada.org.pk) has also been created to receive applications/requests from journalists in distress.

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06 May