Long-term efforts improve journalists’ safety in Pakistan

In 2021, two progressive bills were passed in Pakistan to improve safety of media workers of all genders and fight impunity. These developments are examples of progress that has been supported by the framework of the UN Plan of Action on Safety for Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

Since the turn of the century, Pakistan has ranked as one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists. The country was rated 145 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s World Press Freedom Index in 2021. Since 2000, more than 140 journalists have been killed for doing their job, including two women. Additionally, impunity is rife: not a single killer has been convicted or punished for these serious crimes. Particularly during the period of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country witnessed an increasingly tightening grip on media and internet freedoms.

Ground-breaking progress

However, in 2021, local actors achieved major goals in their fight for press freedom. In July, the Sindh province passed a local law aimed at keeping journalists in its jurisdiction safe. This was followed by another milestone national law on the safety of media practitioners by the federal government that also seeks to combat impunity for crimes against journalists.

The two laws are significant as they both acknowledge the responsibilities of the state and the needs of the country’s journalists. Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) and member of Pakistan Journalists Safety Coalition (PJSC), describes the passing in parliament as a landmark achievement as these laws promise to promote, protect and effectively ensure the independence, impartiality, safety and freedom of expression of media professionals.

“In a nutshell, these laws cover various aspects of the ‘three P’ mechanisms recommended by the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity: prevention, protection and prosecution,” he says. Today, Pakistan is the only country in Asia with such legislation.

Inclusion and collaboration at the centre

The bills are also quite progressive in the sense that they provide further safety guarantees against the harassment of women media workers and have adapted a quite progressive interpretation of who as journalists can benefit from the legislation.

“Any journalist, irrespective of their religious background, gender, ethnicity and affiliation, will be protected under the law,” Muhammed Aftab Alam states. Furthermore, the laws provide for the establishment of independent commissions for the protection of journalists, and the federal act requires three of its members to be women.

This legislation is the result of sustained advocacy efforts by the PJSC, a cross-sectional coalition which was established with support from IMS back in 2019. The PJSC brings together media associations, civil society, human and digital rights campaigners, academia and political parties to advocate for safety of journalists through the lens of freedom of expression. Together, the PJSC managed to put enough pressure on the country’s governments to get the bills passed. Now the PJSC, with IMS support, is advocating for similar local laws in the remaining three provinces of Pakistan.


The efforts to support PJSC was funded by The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Key lessons from the IMS work on safety under the UN Plan of Action in Pakistan:

  • It takes multiple actors to solve issues of this seriousness and scope.
  • Progress through partnerships is more sustainable than single actors.
  • Division of labour: duties need to be parcelled among various duty bearers, otherwise everything is a wish list, not an action plan.