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Pakistan vows to pursue justice in journalist murders

The murder of journalist Hayatullah Khan, seen here in 2005, is just one of many Pakistani killings surrounded in mystery. (CPJ)

Islamabad, Pakistan, May 3, 2011--Pakistan's president committed to pursue justice for journalists killed in the line of duty, pledging to take steps to reverse the country's rising record of impunity. A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met with President Asif Ali Zardari today to discuss the growing number of targeted attacks on journalists in Pakistan and urged him to ensure that journalists are free to report on sensitive issues. The president's commitment, made on World Press Freedom Day, will be monitored by CPJ and national press freedom groups.

"We asked President Zardari to do all within his power to stem the growth in fatal targeted attacks on journalists that have plagued the country for years," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "Failure to do so allows violent forces in Pakistan to determine the limits of public debate."

Since the investigation and ensuing trial of some of those accused of kidnapping and killing Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002, at least 15 other journalists have died in targeted killings in Pakistan. None of their killers have been brought to justice. CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger was the managing editor of the Journal when Pearl was murdered in 2002. Today, he is editor-in-chief of ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism. 

"Personal experience has shown me that Pakistan is capable of pursuing the killers of reporters," said Steiger. "President Zardari must make it a priority to ensure that Pakistan's probing press is not forced to refrain from sensitive coverage in order to stay alive."

In the half-hour meeting with Zardari and members of his cabinet, CPJ's delegation, headed by Steiger, gave the president a list of the 15 journalists whose cases remain uninvestigated and unprosecuted. The list includes a detailed summary of each case that explains how the journalists were targeted for their reporting.

During their meeting, Zardari asked Interior Minister Rehman Malik to provide a detailed follow-up of the cases listed by CPJ. The delegation will meet with Malik on Wednesday to review the material.

The president also asked Malik and Minister of Information and Broadcasting Firdous Ashiq Awan to work with Parliament in developing legislation to monitor and address attacks on journalists. "The protection of journalists is in my mandate," the president said.

With eight journalists killed in the line of duty in 2010, Pakistan was the world's deadliest country for the press last year, according to CPJ research. The country ranks 10th on CPJ's Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists and killed and the killers go free.

On May 5, CPJ will host a roundtable discussion with senior Pakistani journalists in Karachi to discuss ways of protecting reporters and news organizations from violent attacks, and tactics to preserve press freedom.

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