Roots of Impunity

Pakistan’s Endangered Press
And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics

More than 20 journalists have been murdered in reprisal for their work in Pakistan over the past decade. Not one case has been solved, not a single conviction won. This perfect record of impunity has fostered an ever-more violent climate for journalists. Fatalities have jumped in the past five years, and today, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press. The targeted killings of two journalists—Wali Khan Babar in Karachi and Mukarram Khan Aatif in the tribal areas—illustrate the culture of manipulation, intimidation, and retribution that has led to this killing spree. A CPJ special report by Elizabeth Rubin

Issued May 2013


About this Report

By Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator

1. The Murder of Wali Khan Babar

Babar was an unusual face on the air in Karachi: Popular and handsome, he was a Pashtun from Baluchistan. He was also a rising star at Geo TV, which was grooming him to be an anchor. His murder provides an unfortunate prism through which to study the state of media, justice, power, and politics in Pakistan.

Sidebar: Verbatim: Threats, Promises, and Fears

2. A Death in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Officially, there is no mystery to Mukarram Khan Aatif’s death. He is another casualty of the war on terror, executed by the Taliban because of his reporting for a U.S. government-backed news outlet. But unofficially, many do not believe Aatif was killed on orders of the Taliban, at least not for the reasons publicly stated..

Sidebar: For VOA Reporters, a Difficult Balance

3. Intimidation, Manipulation, and Retribution

A couple of years ago, prominent journalists began publicizing the threats they were receiving from intelligence agencies. It was a risky calculation, but silence, they reasoned, encouraged further intimidation. Has their tactic worked? For the well-known it’s offered some protection. But for journalists who work out of the spotlight, threats still lead to something worse.

Sidebar: ‘In case something happens to me’


The murder of Saleem Shahzad in May 2011 galvanized journalists across Pakistan in a way that few other events have. For a short time their power was felt. They secured a high-level investigation. They named intelligence officers who had threatened Shahzad and other journalists. But two years later, precious little has come of their efforts.

CPJ’s Recommendations

The organization’s recommendations to Pakistani authorities, news media, and the international community.


Capsule reports on journalists killed from 2003 through 2012.

Video: Roots of Impunity

The unsolved murders of three journalists reflect a government that is not guaranteeing the rule of law or fundamental human rights. CPJ’s Bob Dietz narrates. By Dave Mayers and Dana Chivvis

In other languages: اردو (pdf)

In print: Download the pdf

PHOTO: A protester with a poster of the murdered Karachi reporter Wali Khan Babar. (AP/Mohammad Sajjad)