Journalists arrested and attacked; media offices set ablaze amid Pakistan protests
New York, May 12, 2023—Pakistan authorities and the leadership and supporters of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party must respect the rights of journalists covering the country’s political unrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Amid protests following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday, May 9, authorities and supporters of Khan’s PTI party have repeatedly attacked and harassed members of the press, according to a statement by the local press freedom group Pakistan Press Foundation and local journalists who spoke to CPJ. On Thursday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court declared Khan’s arrest illegal and ordered his immediate release.
As of the evening of Friday, May 12, at least one journalist, Imran Riaz Khan, was being held in an unidentified location, his lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq told CPJ by phone.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has also suspended mobile internet services and restricted access to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in various areas throughout the country since Tuesday.
“Pakistan authorities must unconditionally release journalist Imran Riaz Khan, investigate all attacks on the media, and restore unrestricted access to internet services and social media platforms throughout the country,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “The Pakistani people have a right to be informed about the ongoing upheaval in their country. The authorities and the opposition political party must respect that right.”
Authorities arrested Imran Riaz Khan, an anchor with the privately owned broadcaster BOL News, in the early hours of Thursday, May 11, at Punjab’s Sialkot Airport, where he was scheduled to travel to Oman, according to news reports and Ashfaq.
In a detention order reviewed by CPJ, the Sialkot police accused the journalist of repeatedly delivering “provocative speech” and requested that he be detained for 30 days due to the “likelihood that he will create unrest [among] the general public and create [a] law & order situation.”
Prior to his arrest, the journalist had published videos on his personal YouTube channel, where he has about 4 million subscribers, demonstrating support for PTI protesters and sharing reports alleging that the former prime minister had been tortured in custody.