Hiding behind Shehbaz government, Pakistan army tightens grip on journalists
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has cautioned Pakistan's army high command against further harassment of the media, which it says would seriously undermine Pakistani democracy.
This comes after Pakistani authorities registered as many as nine cases of intimidation of journalists by army-related agencies since Shehbaz Sharif took over as prime minister in late April.
"The many cases of harassment that RSF has registered in the past two months have one thing in common - all the journalists concerned had, in one way or another, criticised the army's role in Pakistani politics," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.
"It is clear from the data that the armed forces have launched a major campaign to intimidate critical journalists. This kind of interference, which is absolutely intolerable, must stop at once or else the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, will be held directly responsible for the decline in press freedom in Pakistan."
Recently, BOL News anchor Sami Ibrahim was attacked by three people outside the TV channel's studios in Melody, a district in Islamabad, the capital.
In a video posted on his YouTube channel the next day, Ibrahim said they were waiting for him outside the TV channel in order to harass him while filming the scene. They then left in a car with green licence plates, the sign of a state-owned vehicle.
The incident comes six weeks after judicial proceedings were opened against Ibrahim under articles 499, 505 and 131 of the penal code, which penalise defamation, statements conducive to public mischief and "abetting mutiny" respectively.
Another well-known TV journalist, Express News TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan, was intercepted and arrested by a dozen policemen accompanied by members of a Punjab special elite force on the evening of 5 July at a toll plaza on the road to Islamabad, where he had planned to obtain pre-arrest bail to avoid the arrest he knew was imminent if he remained in Punjab.
Khan is the target of at least 17 charges that the Punjab prosecutor's office has brought against him since May under the prevention of electronic crimes act and several penal code articles - charges that include "hurting the sentiments of the Pakistani people" and "treason."
In Khan's case again, the grounds for the complaints were comments he made criticising the current government. On the eve of his arrest, he posted an analysis of his own situation on his YouTube channel in which he referred to threats against him and his family by Gen. Bajwa.
In Lahore, another TV journalist Ayaz Amir was attacked on the night of 30 June. He was dragged from his car and beaten as he was returning home from recording a programme at his TV channel, Dunya News.
Significantly, Amir had taken part the previous day in a seminar about the consequences of the recent change of government, openly criticising the army's influence in Pakistani politics and referring to the generals as "property dealers" because of the way they traffic in government positions.
The RSF pointed out how the army is usually described as the kingmaker behind Pakistani democracy's trappings.
During Imran Khan's four-year reign as prime minister, RSF repeatedly drew attention to the military's press freedom violations and attempts to interfere in the media, including harassment of journalists, physical attacks, shooting attacks, kidnappings, threats against journalists living abroad, blocking of broadcast signals and direct censorship of traditional media, video platforms and social media. The list of abuses seems endless.
There has been no let-up in the harassment of journalists since Khan's replacement by Sharif as prime minister - quite the contrary.