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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) has also been created to receive applications/requests from journalists in distress.