In a scathing verdict against the Imran Khan government, the Human Rights Commission has said that Pakistan's record of human rights violations last year was "greatly worrisome" due to systematic curbing of political dissent.
In its annual report released on Thursday, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said, "The year 2019 will be remembered for the systematic curbing of political dissent by various means, constraints to the freedom of the mainstream media, digital surveillance, and the over-regulation of social media spaces." HRCP added that it is likely to worsen further.
Curbs on freedom of opinion and expression continued to escalate, the commission said, pointing out that it had become "more difficult to speak or write openly – if at all – on 'sensitive' issues such as enforced disappearances, or to criticise state policy or security agencies in these areas" for journalists in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular.
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"Strong-arm tactics employed allegedly by state agencies forced many journalists to resort to self-censorship or even resign from their posts," the report said.
Several thousand media persons lost their jobs and a number of newspapers and magazines shut down, largely due to the financial squeeze imposed when government advertisements were withdrawn and previous dues withheld, the commission said.
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"Concerns over a concerted campaign against Dawn resurfaced when a mob besieged the newspaper's offices in Karachi and Islamabad, chanting slogans in favour of an intelligence agency."
In October, Steve Butler of the Committee to Protect Journalists was denied entry to Pakistan to attend the Asma Jahangir Conference.
The government's proposals to establish one regulatory authority across the media and special tribunals to hear complaints against the media, were "a means to gag the media further". Pakistan's Internet freedom ranking declined even further in 2019, due to a "problematic cyber crime law, Internet shutdowns, and cyber-attacks against political dissenters, justified on the grounds of national security.".