Pakistan urged to free journalist held illegally after being deported from Malaysia
Reporters without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Syed Fawad Ali Shah, a Pakistani journalist also known as Fawad Shah, who was deported from Malaysia last August despite having refugee status there, and who is now being held in a prison in Peshawar, in northern Pakistan, on unsubstantiated charges.
Shah disappeared after being sent back to Pakistan but the “Where is Syed Fawad Ali Shah?” appeal issued by RSF in January bore fruit when he was officially transferred on 8 February to Adiala Jail, the main prison in Rawalpindi, the twin city of the capital, Islamabad. He was moved from there to Peshawar ten days later.
It has emerged that, before his transfer to Adiala Jail, Shah spent five and a half months held incommunicado in one of the cells of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a counter-espionage agency attached to the interior ministry.
RSF has seen a copy of the January 2020 police report, known as a First Information Report (FIR), that accuses Shah of posting “false, frivolous and fake information” online in violation of sections 20 and 24 of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA). Filed by an interior ministry official in Peshawar, the city where Shah is now being held, the FIR also cites sections 186, 500 and 506 of the penal code regarding “defamation” and “intimidation” of officials.
“The First Information Report accusations against Syed Fawad Ali Shah are supported by absolutely no legally valid evidence, which means this journalist should not be in a prison. Furthermore, according to the latest information available to us, his state of health is quite alarming after six months in prison cells. To respect the rule of law and on humanitarian grounds, we urge interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan to order his immediate and unconditional release and to allow him to leave Pakistan.
Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk
Shah’s wife, who prefers not to be named, was allowed to visit him in the Peshawar prison on 21 February. “He has become very weak and his whole body was shaking,” she said. “Seeing his condition, he has been tortured a lot. His mental state is very bad.”
Warning to Pakistani journalists based abroad
RSF received no response when it asked the interior minister’s office to provide more information about the First Information Report accusations against Shah and about the conditions in which he is being held.
Shah fled Pakistan in 2011 after being abducted and tortured by members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan most feared intelligence agency. Pakistan’s counter-espionage agencies had been trying to have him repatriated ever since the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) granted him refugee status in Malaysia in 2014.
RSF has seen a disturbing surge in incidents targeting Pakistani journalists based abroad in recent years. A year ago, a court in London confirmed that Ahmad Waqas Goraya, a Pakistani journalist and blogger based in the Netherlands, had been a target when it convicted Muhammad Gohir Khan, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, of conspiring to murder him.
Abducted and tortured
The body of Balochistan Times editor Sajid Hussain was retrieved from the River Fyris in central Sweden in April 2020. In July 2020, RSF revealed the existence of an internal memo to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies providing a list of journalists based abroad to be kept under surveillance and, if necessary, “approached through proper channels” to get them to refrain from further anti-Pakistan “rhetoric.”
The many cases of journalists being subjected to intimidation, abduction and torture is one of the main reasons why Pakistan is now ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.