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.