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Watchdog group slams Pakistan PM Imran Khan over press freedom

File photo: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Islamabad, Pakistan Jul 31, 2019, 11.16 PM (IST)

The global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday it was an "obscenity" for Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to say that press freedom was thriving in his country.

During a recent visit to the United States, Khan had said talking about curbs on press freedom in Pakistan was a "joke".

"It is clear that either you are very poorly informed, in which case you should urgently replace the people around you, or you are knowingly concealing the facts, which is very serious, given your responsibilities," wrote RSF Secretary-General, Christophe Deloire.

Given a recent surge in press freedom violations, which RSF enumerated in a statement, "you will appreciate that to talk of 'one of the freest presses in the world' is clearly tantamount to an obscenity," Deloire said.

He urged Khan to "allow Pakistan's journalists to exercise their profession in complete safety and with complete independence.

"The credibility of the Pakistani state and democracy is at stake," Deloire wrote.

Khan, a cricket hero who captained the national team to World Cup victory in 1992, was elected last summer after running a fiery campaign -- vowing to crack down on corruption and build an Islamic welfare state. 

But, nearly one year later, his rule has been marred by a crackdown on civil rights activists, the rounding up of opposition leaders, and increased pressure on the press

His government is also struggling to right the country's floundering economy, with ballooning deficits, soaring inflation, and a sinking rupee stirring discontent.

Earlier in July, Khan's government launched another blistering attack on the press, linking critical coverage to potential "treason".

Also in July, a number of private television channels had their broadcasts cut after screening a press conference with opposition leader Maryam Nawaz. 

The Committee to Protect Journalist last year warned that the powerful Pakistani military had "quietly, but effectively, set restrictions on reporting".

Pakistan routinely ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers, and reporters have frequently been detained, beaten and even killed for being critical of the government or powerful military.

In recent years the space for dissent has shrunk further, with the government announcing a crackdown on social networks and traditional media houses decrying pressure from authorities that they say has resulted in widespread self-censorship.