Phurpa Lhamo

With zero death and physical attacks against journalists, Bhutan is one of the safest places to practice journalism in the region.

At the South Asia Regional Consultation on the 10th Anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists (UNPA), which began yesterday in Nepal, six countries including Bhutan presented the status of the UNPA implementation in their respective countries.

UNPA was adopted in 2012 to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers. UNPA advocates, among other things, for the establishment of mechanisms to assist in the formulation and implementation of national legislation that enhance the safety of journalists, freedom of expression and access to information, in compliance with international rules and principles.

While practicing journalism seemed most favourable in Bhutan, issues such as the recent usage of Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations (BCSR) to discourage civil servants from talking to the media was also raised.

Except for three recent cases of journalists facing intimidation and other threats, Bhutan presented that there were no physical attacks, killings, or journalists imprisoned.

In neighboring India, six journalists were killed last year; eight women faced arrest.

Times School of Media’s Senior Journalist, Jatin Gandhi, said that in India the Police Act dated back to 1860s. Similarly, the sedition law, he said, was a “British era relic.”

He also pointed out that defamation suit, which can be sough as a civil remedy and criminal action, could be used to trouble journalists. “The journalist’s rights, they do not exceed the rights of the ordinary citizen.”

In Bhutan too, defamation suits can be pursued as either criminal or civil offence.

In Pakistan, since 2001, more than 150 journalists lost their lives.

IMS Program Manager, Adnan Rehmat, said that in 2017, the country saw an emergence of a new legal regime with the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which has changed the nature of threats to federal structure in Pakistan. “Previously, it used to be most of the time physical threat, abduction, harassment, killing murderers. But with the arrival of PECA this threat has now become legal and procedural.”

“Just two days ago, the high court has issued a very detailed interim order to the government to take strict and real actions needed to make sure that missing persons and the journalists are back to the families.”

He also pointed out the various activities carried out in Pakistan with support from UNESCO in the implementation of the UNPA.

By convincing the government, Pakistan currently has a reporting mechanism and also a separate indicator of crime reporting against journalists at police station levels in all provinces.

“Now we have at the moment, five focal points a one at federal level and for in the provincial governments to keep an eye on reporting of these crimes against journalist,” Adnan Rehmat said.

In Sri Lanka, while there has not been any incident of killing of journalists in recent times, journalists continue to receive threats.

Sri Lanka Press Institute’s CEO, Kumar Lopez, said that journalists, most times, were intimidated and also were also physically attacked. “There is a proposed Media Authority Act that has been planned to bring about all the organisations together, which includes looking at the safety issues and the concerns.”

In Bangladesh, in 2020 alone, two journalists were killed, 78 seriously injured, while 166 received threats for unveiling scams or rackets. All the attacks occurred with impunity.

In Bangladesh, editor and journalism Rifat Munim pointed out that the Digital Security Act (DSA) since its promulgation in October 2018 has become the most effective legal tool to silence and harass dissenting voices. Between January 2020 and February 2022, more than 200 journalists have been implicated under the DSA.

He added that strong coalition with local actors such as non-governmental organsations, journalists, activists, and CSOs, was a way forward for the UNPA implementation.

UNESCO New Delhi Office and UNESCO Kathamandu Office, in collaboration with the National Human Rights Commission, Nepal is organising the two-day consultation to assess the safety of journalists in the regional countries.

The regional consultation on the 10th anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (UNPA+10) is intended to focus discussions on the past and future of the UNPA.

According to UNESCO: “The outcomes of the regional consultation will inform a ministerial conference in Vienna, Austria, this November convened by the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with UNESCO and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), back-to-back with the International Day to End Impunity on 2nd November.”