Pakistan arrests prominent journalist for third time in a year


ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities arrested journalist and former TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan early Wednesday. Hours later, his legal team was informed the journalist was arrested for embezzlement.

A vocal critic of the country’s powerful military establishment, Khan was arrested early Wednesday from the airport in Lahore as he was on his way to perform the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

This is Khan’s third arrest in 13 months. The popular commentator, seen as a supporter of incarcerated former Prime Minister Imran Khan, has 5.7 million followers on social media platform X and 4.83 million followers on YouTube.

Videos posted overnight on Imran Riaz Khan’s X page show men in plain clothes surrounding his car at the entrance to the airport. Some people present at the scene surround the vehicle, too, demanding that the men stopping Khan identify themselves. Soon, police are seen arriving and forcefully stop some witnesses, including a lawyer, from recording the scene on their mobile phones.

Khan’s legal team filed a petition in the Lahore High Court seeking reasons for the arrest that they say was made without a warrant. A first information report shared on X by Khan’s lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaque shows the prominent reporter was accused of embezzling nearly $90,000 in a real estate deal.

In an earlier post on X, Ashfaque, who was driving his client to the airport, said the “arrest made in an illegal manner” was a violation of court orders.

Speaking to VOA Urdu, Ashfaque said that Khan was granted bail in all the cases against him, and that the Islamabad High Court gave him permission to leave the country.

In a video recorded before heading to the airport, Khan said he was expecting police action.

“I have information right now that there is a heavy presence of Rangers [paramilitary force] and police [at the airport] and they may arrest me,” Khan said in the clip posted after his arrest Wednesday.

The prominent media person once enjoyed a close relationship with Pakistan’s powerful military but fell out of favor for openly criticizing the institution after former premier Khan was removed from power in April 2022 in a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The popular politician, jailed since August last year, accuses his then-army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and political rivals of pushing him out of office in collusion with the Biden administration — charges they have all denied.

Past arrests

In May last year, police arrested journalist Khan at the airport in the industrial city of Sialkot in Punjab province. The action came amid a crackdown on former premier Khan’s supporters after many of them stormed government and military installations to protest his brief arrest on May 9.

The journalist, however, soon went “missing” and arrived home nearly five months later. Khan has hinted he was in the custody of intelligence agencies.

In February this year, authorities arrested him again — this time on corruption charges. However, officials told VOA Urdu the commentator was accused of spreading religious hate and running an online campaign against the chief justice.__VOA News