Pakistani police open several criminal investigations into four journalists

New York, May 25, 2022 – Pakistani authorities must immediately drop their investigations into journalists Sami Abraham, Arshad Sharif, Sabir Shakir and Imran Riaz Khan, and refrain from arresting and targeting journalists in retaliation for their work, said the Committee to Protect Journalists. Wednesday.

Since May 18, police across Pakistan have filed several First Information Reports (FIRs), which open an investigation, against Abraham, a presenter of the private broadcaster BOL News and the host of a popular current affairs newspaper . Youtube channelKhan, presenter of the private broadcaster Express News, and Sharif and Shakir, both presenters of the private broadcaster ARY News, according to news reports and journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone and messaging app.

The wave of investigations comes amid physical, legal and online harassment of journalists following Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s parliamentary election on April 11 after ousting former Prime Minister Imran Khan in a a vote of no confidence. On May 4, Prime Minister Sharif tweeted that the new government was “fully committed to freedom of the press and of expression”.

The four journalists are known as supporters of former Prime Minister Khan, according to the news.

Among other offences, the multiple FIRs accuse all four journalists of violating sections of the Penal Code regarding incitement to mutiny and the publication of statements causing public unrest by criticizing state institutions and the military in their journalistic work and unspecified posts on social networks. Incitement to mutiny can result in life imprisonment and an unspecified fine, and the charge of public mischief can result in a seven-year prison term and an unspecified fine, according to law.

“The Pakistani authorities’ launch of a blizzard of harassing criminal investigations against journalists considered sympathetic to the former ruling party makes a mockery of its claims to defend press freedom,” said Steven Butler, coordinator of the CPJ Asia Program, Washington, DC. “Authorities should withdraw investigations of Sami Abraham, Imran Riaz Khan, Arshad Sharif and Sabir Shakir and ensure that members of the press do not face reprisals for their comments about the military or any other institution in Pakistan.

In at least three of the FIRS – which were filed by police in Quetta, Pishin and Chaman in the southwestern province of Balochistan – Abraham, Sharif and Shakir are co-accused of working together to slander state institutions through their journalistic work and commentary, according to these three journalists and copies of FIRS that CPJ reviewed.

In at least one FIR – filed by police in Dadu in the southeastern province of Sindh – Sharif and Shakir are accused of using derogatory language about the military and state institutions and having drawn analogies with controversial historical figures through their journalistic work and commentary, according to the two journalists. and news reports.

Abraham told CPJ by phone that he was the subject of at least one additional FIR, filed by police in Attock, in the northeastern province of Punjab, on May 18, accusing him of planning a conspiracy and criticize state institutions and the military on his YouTube channel, without citing specific videos.

Sharif told CPJ that since May 19, police have registered at least two additional FIRs against him, in Karachi and Hyderabad in the southeastern province of Sindh. Karachi Police’s FIR against Sharif, which CPJ reviewed, roughly quotes a May 12 statement interview which Sharif provided to journalist Matiullah Jan at the High Court in Islamabad, in which he discussed the court’s decision decision that day, extending his April 28 protection order against the Federal Investigation Agency and the Islamabad Police, and later asserted that the military should not interfere in the affairs of the state. Sharif told CPJ he received the order after plainclothes agents he believed to be from the agency showed up at his home at 1:30 a.m. on April 28.

On May 21, police in Mirpur Khas, Sindh province, registered an additional FIR against Shakir, accusing him of criticizing state institutions, according to Shakir and a report by his exit.

Khan told CPJ via the messaging app that police filed three FIRs against him in total.

In one of the FIRs, filed on 22 May by Dhabeji police in Thatta district of Sindh province, a plaintiff is quoted accusing Khan of writing about the military and state institutions using “derogatory and provocative language” on social media, according to news reports and one copy of FIR Khan posted on Twitter.

Khan did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for copies of the other two FIRs.

Three of the four journalists – Sharif, Abraham and Khan – applied for a protective bond, a court order protecting them from arrest in connection with the FIRs.

On May 23, the High Court in Islamabad granted Sharif and Abraham a protective bond until at least May 30. pending a hearing that dayand ordered Pakistan’s Home Secretary to disclose the total number of FIRs filed against journalists, according to news reports and Cherif.

(Another journalist, Moeed Pirzada, CEO and publisher of the online news site Global Village area and a presenter for the private broadcaster 92 News, was granted a protective bond in the same May 23 court order after he said he received threatening phone calls, according to the reports. Pirzada did not respond to calls from CPJ and WhatsApp messages seeking comment.)

On 23 May, the Lahore High Court granted protection bond to Khan in relation to two of the FIRs; its protection lasts until May 27 in one case and until May 31 in the other, according to news reports.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via the messaging app. application. The offices of Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, Chief Minister of Balochistan; Syed Murad Ali Shah, Chief Minister of Sindh Province; and Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, did not respond to CPJ’s email requests for comment.

Mark M. Gagnon