CPJ urges PML-N govt to stop targeting journalists

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the PML-N-led government to immediately drop its investigations into journalists Sami Abraham, Arshad Sharif, Sabir Shakir and Imran Riaz Khan.

In an official statement the independent media watchdog called upon the authorities to refrain from arresting and targeting journalists in retaliation for their work.

Since May 18, police across the country have filed multiple first information reports (FIRs), which open an investigation, against the journalists associated with private TV channels including Express News anchor Imran Riaz Khan.

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

Among other offences, the multiple FIRs all accuse the four journalists of violating sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) pertaining to abetment of mutiny and publication of statements causing public mischief by criticising state institutions in their journalistic work and unspecified social media posts. Abetment of mutiny can carry life imprisonment and an unspecified fine, and the public mischief accusation can carry a prison sentence of seven years and an unspecified fine, according to the law.

Also read: ExpressNews anchor booked for sedition on gutka seller’s complaint

“Pakistan authorities’ launch of a blizzard of harassing criminal investigations into journalists seen as sympathetic to the former ruling party makes a mockery of its claims to uphold press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in Washington, DC.

“Authorities should withdraw the investigations into Sami Abraham, Imran Riaz Khan, Arshad Sharif, and Sabir Shakir and ensure that members of the press do not face retaliation for their commentary on the military or any other institutions in Pakistan.”

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

Abraham told CPJ via phone that he is the subject of at least one additional FIR, filed by police in Attock on May 18, accusing him of planning a conspiracy and criticising state institutions and the army 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.

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

In one of the FIRs, filed on May 22 by Dhabeji police in Thatta district of Sindh province, a complainant is cited accusing Khan of writing about the state institutions using “derogatory and provocative language” on social media.

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