Amnesty International, RSF call out Pakistani authorities over cases filed against journalists to ‘silence critics’


Rights organisation Amnesty International and global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have raised concerns and called out Pakistani authorities over cases filed against journalists in connection with the events of May 9 under sedition charges in a bid to “silence critics”.

“At least seven journalists and commentators have been charged with offences against the state and anti-terror laws in the past four days,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday, expressing concern over “the crackdown on voices critical of the state and military”.

“The use of these laws to silence commentators and journalists is a violation of the right to freedom of expression,” the statement added.

The seven individuals referred to in the Amnesty International’s statement include journalists Shaheen Sehbai and Wajahat Saeed Khan, anchorpersons Sabir Shakir and Moeed Pirzada, army-officers-turned-Youtubers Adil Raja and Syed Haider Raza Mehdi and an individual identified as Syed Akbar Hussain.

The YouTubers among them are currently based outside Pakistan, while the journalists and anchorpersons previously worked for mainstream newspapers and television in Pakistan, but are currently either limited to YouTube or other social media platforms. No information is currently available about Hussain’s current country of residence.

Among the booked individuals, Shakir, Pirzada and Hussain were booked by Islamabad police on Wednesday (yesterday) on charges of sedition and terrorism for their alleged involvement in the violence and vadalism that was witnessed amid protests erupted in the wake of PTI chief Imran Khan’s arrest.

Similarly, Sehbai, Khan, Raja and Mehdi were booked by Islamabad police on Monday for “abetting mutiny” and inciting people to attack military installations across the country on May 9.

These individuals are the latest to face action following the launch of a state crackdown on the PTI over their alleged involvement in vandalism and violence on May 9.

Citing media reports, Amnesty International said in its statement today that all of these seven individuals had been charged with offences against the state and anti-terror laws.

“The Anti-Terrorism Act has been criticised for the sweeping powers given to the police and armed forces, to abuse human rights with impunity, and removes safeguards against arbitrary arrest, detention and ill-treatment,” it said, stressing that “Pakistani authorities must end the use of offences against the state and anti-terror laws to silence critics”.

It added that where there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing, suspects should be charged under ordinary criminal laws, with an “internationally recognisable offence not weaponised to restrict the freedom of expression, and produced before a civilian court”.

Earlier, RSF urged Pakistan to immediately dismiss the “ludicrous mutiny accusations in a complaint with no credibility” that an individual has brought against Khan and Sehbai.

“Although manifestly absurd, the charges [against the two] could carry the death penalty,” the RSF statement said.

“The two journalists have just practiced journalism,” the statement said, quoting RSF Asia Pacific head Daniel Bastard as saying that to “arbitrarily associate” the names of journalists with those of “rebel ex-army officers” was meant to intimidate the journalists into silence.

“In view of the absurdity of the supposed incriminating evidence, we call on the Islamabad prosecutor’s office to dismiss this complaint, which should never have been received.

According to the statement, Khan had already told RSF last week that he was being “subjected to mounting harassment, some of it targeting his family and professional partners. And he has no illusions about the nature of the allegations brought against him this week.

“He said the police officer who registered the FIR told his lawyer that ‘this case is not under his ambit, which indicates that some other authorities are handling this matter, possibly extra-legally.’”

In this connection, the statement also mentioned the disappearance of anchorperson Imran Riaz, whose whereabouts remain unknown since his arrest at the Sialkot airport on May 11.

It also mentioned the event of Geo News executive producer Zubair Anjum allegedly being picked up in Karachi earlier this month.

Prior to this incident, activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir — who had been vocal in his criticism of the recent state crackdown on the PTI following May 9 riots and the legal process involving those who allegedly took part in the riots — was allegedly picked up by unidentified men in Karachi on June 1, and returned home around 24 hours later following protests and calls for his recovery.

Similarly, senior journalist Sami Abraham was also taken away by unidentified men in Islamabad on May 24 and returned home six days later. His brother Ali Raza had filed a complaint of abduction at Aabpara Police