NEW YORK -

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent watchdog body, has called on the incoming government of Pakistan, which is set to be headed by PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, to urgently address the issue of violence against the press by bringing perpetrators of past crimes to justice.

"Pakistan has one of the world's worst records of prosecuting anti-press violence, with authorities failing to convict a single suspect in 23 journalist murders over the past decade," CPJ Asia programme coordinator, Bob Dietz said in a statement issued Thursday.

"The situation is dire as journalists are targeted not only by militants, criminals, and warlords, but also by political, military, and intelligence operatives. These threats have gone completely unpunished over the past decade and have made the country one of the deadliest in the world for the press."

Dietz spoke after the release of a report, written for CPJ by journalist Elizabeth Rubin, that said an intricate web of manipulation, intimidation, retribution, and impunity has led to a significant rise in journalist murders over the past five years. Military officials, intelligence agents, and criminal elements of political parties threaten and attack the news media without fear of punishment, it said.

CPJ has requested meetings with top government officials in Pakistan to discuss the report's findings, a press release said.

"Government, military, and intelligence officials are suspected of involvement in at least seven journalist murders in the past decade," said Dietz. "The newly-elected government led by Nawaz Sharif has an opportunity to stem the murderous silencing of the press by implementing security mechanisms for the media and delivering justice in these killings."

The report examines the targeted killings of journalists Wali Khan Babar in Karachi and Mukarram Khan Aatif in the tribal areas, along with the underlying culture that has led to so many other killings. Babar, a correspondent for Geo TV, was shot on a busy street in Karachi in January 2011. Police arrested several suspects affiliated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) but the case has been derailed by threats, intimidation, and murders of key figures in the investigation, the report said, adding five witnesses or law enforcement officials connected to the case have been murdered, and two prosecutors were fired without explanation.

Rubin's report said that Pakistani officials may have been behind the targeted killing of Aatif, a seasoned reporter for Deewa Radio, the Pashto-language service of the US government-funded Voice of America. Aatif was murdered at a mosque north of Peshawar in January 2012. Just weeks before, he had covered a deadly US military attack against a Pakistan Army post in Salala.

Pakistani authorities have pledged to address the utter lack of justice in press murders, but a weak civilian government has been unable or unwilling to stand up to the criminal political elements, the CPI said. The recent election of a new government in Pakistan, the first successful change of civilian administration in the country's history, offers an opportunity to correct this record, it said.

Given this climate of fear and injustice, Pakistani journalists have begun taking action, CPJ said. Representatives of dozens of outlets and groups have begun crafting a plan to improve journalist safety as part of a UN-sponsored effort. Among its many measures, the UN plan aims to strengthen journalist safety programmes and assist member states in developing ways to prosecute the killers of journalists.

CPJ's report calls on the government to bring about successful prosecutions in the 23 unsolved cases of journalist murders over the past decade; provide sufficient staffing and funding for police and prosecutors; enact statutory oversight for the nation's intelligence services; and cooperate fully in the implementation of the UN plan. Media organisations must expand security training efforts and strengthen cooperative professional efforts to ensure that all professional groups speak as one. The international community must fully support these efforts with funding and expertise, it added.

"Manipulation, intimidation, and targeting of journalists to conceal reporting on issues vital to citizens and international partners must end," said Dietz. "Addressing the culture of impunity in anti-press violence will enable the citizens of Pakistan to be informed about and participate in their country's future."