condemning killing and physical attacks on journalists in Pakistan and banning live broadcasts of former prime minister Imran Khan’s speeches.
The extensive resolution, coinciding with the May 3rd world press freedom day has been referred to the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution was tabled by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), and co-sponsored by Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (D-GA), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Brendan F. Boyle (D-PA) and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).
“Whereas, in Pakistan, the government maintained high levels of media censorship, and impunity persists in cases of killings and physical attacks on journalists, including—
(1) the October 2022 killing of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya, where he had sought safety after feeling Pakistan in August 2022 while facing a series of police cases in Pakistan in relation to his work; and
(2) the March 2023 Government ban on satellite television channels from airing live and recorded speeches by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the temporary suspension of the license of ARY News for broadcasting a speech by Khan,” reads the section of the resolution related to Pakistan.
It calls upon the House to condemn threats to freedom of the press and free expression around the world; remembers the bravery of journalists and media workers around the world who, despite threats to their safety, play an essential role in promoting government accountability, defending democratic activity, and strengthening civil society; remembers journalists and media workers who have lost their lives carrying out their work; calls on governments abroad to implement United Nations General Assembly Resolution 74/157 (2019) by thoroughly investigating and seeking to resolve outstanding cases of violence against journalists, including murders and kidnappings, while ensuring the protection of witnesses; condemns all actions around the world that suppress freedom of the press; and reaffirms the centrality of freedom of the press to efforts of the United States Government to support democracy, mitigate conflict, and promote good governance around the world.
The resolution calls upon President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinkin to:
(A) preserve and build upon the leadership of the United States Government on issues relating to freedom of the press and journalist safety, on the basis of the protections afforded the American people under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States;
(B) improve the rapid identification, publication, and response by the United States Government to threats against freedom of the press around the world;
(C) urge foreign governments to promptly and transparently investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of threats, harassment, and attacks against journalists;
(D) leverage United States foreign assistance to support independent media, address disinformation, and support technologies that allow for expanded access to independent reporting in countries where authoritarian regimes control or limit the internet; and
(E) continue to highlight the issue of threats against freedom of the press in the annual country reports on human rights practices of the Department of State and through diplomatic channels.
A growing number of American elected officials are expressing concern over the deteriorating human rights situation and shrinking press freedom and civil liberties in Pakistan.
Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) took to the House of Representatives floor on April 28 to condemn torture and substantial human rights abuses in Pakistan. “I would say and I think the State Department agrees that what comes first is our dedication to democracy and the rule of law,” he said, adding: “Imran Khan was difficult for us to deal with, prime minister Sharif somewhat easier, but the question is democracy and the rule of law. The Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled that there should be provincial elections in Punjab and later on in another province… that is the rule of law…. that the Supreme Court has ordered that funds be released so that those elections are held”.
Sherman added: “America does not stand with this policy and that policy or a government that will stand with us on this issue or that issue, America stands for democracy and the rule of law.”
Congressman Sherman demanded fair and transparent elections and respect for human rights and civil liberties in Pakistan. Sherman is among the first few members of the US Congress who have condemned growing evidence of gross human rights violations in Pakistan.
The Pakistani American community, deeply concerned over deteriorating political, economic, and human rights conditions in their country of origin, has been proactively reaching out to the members of US Congress over the issue.
The Pakistan-American Political Action Committee, a leading community organization active inside Washington’s Beltway, has reached out to at least 92 congressional offices, seeking the Biden administration’s help to use its good offices to stop Islamabad from waging war on the constitutional rights of its citizens. It organized ‘PAKPAC Day on the Hill for Human Rights in Pakistan’ on April 25 where several members of the US Congress showed up and expressed concern over the situation in Pakistan.
Dr. Asif Mahmood, an influential Democrat from California who ran an unsuccessful bid for US Congress from California’s congressional District 40 last year, is one of few Pakistani Americans who is actively reaching out to Congressional leaders. Dr. Mahmood posted a video with Rep Schiff in which he can be seen praising him for raising his voice for human rights at home and abroad.
Pakistani American community’s growing activism on the US Capitol may not bring instant pressure on Islamabad but it may not stay so for too long. As America enters a crucial general elections season, Pakistan’s human rights abuses becoming a mainstream topic of debate is just a matter of time, with serious consequences for those who pull the levers of power in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.