PPF alarmed by arrests, raids, and harassment of media professionals; urge govt to provide answers instead of deflecting away from the issue
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) is alarmed by recent arrests, raids, and harassment of journalists and media professionals in Pakistan. In the aftermath of former prime minister Imran Khan’s arrests and the protests that followed on May 9, many media professionals have been picked up and arrested, their homes have been raided, and media professionals and their family members have been harassed.
Instead of deflecting away from the issue, the government must provide answers about the harassment that media professionals are facing under their rule. The government is ultimately responsible for ensuring the freedom and safety of the media as per the Constitution and the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021.
On May 25, federal minister Khurram Dastgir was quoted by the media claiming that no journalist had been shot at, picked up, or beaten in their houses since the current government took charge, Dawn reported. The events since Imran Khan’s arrest, including the harassment, arrests, and raids on media persons and the track record of free expression and media safety in Pakistan since the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government came to power, paint a different picture. Instead of focusing on issuing statements, the government should work toward active implementation of its claims.
In a welcome step, amidst reports of numerous arrests, raids, and instances of harassment, on May 23, the Lahore High Court stated that no case was to be registered against a social media activist or journalist. According to Dawn, the police were stopped from harassing any journalist who covered the May 9 protests.
On May 22, Punjab Inspector General Dr. Usman Anwar told the Lahore High Court (LHC) that there was “no trace” of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan at any police department across Pakistan, Dawn reported.
On May 11, Riaz Khan was arrested at Sialkot Airport in the Punjab province. Despite being allegedly released after being taken into police custody on May 11, the anchorperson’s whereabouts remained unknown. A case is underway at the LHC.
Khan’s legal representative Advocate Rana Maroof Khan told PPF that in the last hearing on May 22, Punjab Police had again failed to produce the media personnel in court. Maroof Khan said that the inspector general of police has been given two days to produce the anchorperson in court. The next proceeding is set for May 25.
Meanwhile, when questioned about the recent attacks on journalists, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb asked for the name of a single journalist who was missing. When asked about Riaz Khan, she said he was a “political party spokesperson” now, adding that it was necessary to differentiate between journalists and those journalists who had joined political parties and were “inciting violence” and were political party spokespersons.
With the increased role of social media platforms in disseminating information and in a politically polarized environment that has trickled its way into the media, the lines between journalism and activism have become increasingly blurred. While this creates a challenge for media bodies on how to react to attacks, it cannot be used as an excuse by the government to avoid accountability for the incidents that are taking place.
As per the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021, protection extends to all journalists and media professionals as defined in the law.
In a statement issued on May 18, Lahore Press Club President Muhammad Azam Chaudhry and other duty bearers strongly condemned raids at the house of council member Jahangir
Hayat in an attempt to arrest him in Lahore. They also condemned the picking up of Neo News reporter Hafiz Mehboob’s father by unidentified persons.
As per the Lahore Press Club, Hayat’s house was raided repeatedly in an attempt to catch him.
He was made the target of violence, resulting in his front teeth being broken. His 12-year-old son was also subjected to violence, and women in the house were misbehaved with. Threats of serious consequences were issued.
In another case, Neo News reporter Hafiz Mehboob Ali’s father, Mehboob Ali, was arrested. Speaking to PPF, Hafiz said that he had covered the developments near Jinnah House on May 9, after which he said that police were raiding the homes of media professionals and persons at the protest to verify identities.
He said his father was arrested by police when unknown persons called on his father’s number and asked him to come to Alam Market in Lahore for “some business work.” As a local businessman, Hafiz’s father reached the market when police arrested him. According to the media person, his father’s mobile sim was in Hafiz’s name but was in his father’s use.
Hafiz’s father was released after a process of verification.
On May 22, Bol News Lahore senior correspondent Shahid Aslam’s apartment in the city was raided by police.
Speaking to PPF, Aslam said that the Punjab police had harassed him for two days, and on May 22, the police raided his house.
Aslam was in Islamabad throughout these raids, which resulted in the police’s failure to apprehend him. However, his family was subjected to harassment by the police.
Aslam said that he had contacted Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr. Usman Anwar and asked why the police were raiding his house and harassing him. He said he would himself visit a police station if he was charged with any crime and there was no need to raid his house.
The journalist shared that despite complaining to the inspector general, the raids on his residence had not stopped, so he had filed a writ petition in the LHC.
As per Aslam, during the first hearing, the judge issued a restraining order and directed police to stop raiding Aslam’s residence.
“Police have been harassing me as if I have committed a crime. My only crime was to cover the PTI protest on May 9, after which the series of raids continued at my residence,” he lamented.
On May 11, a YouTuber, Arqum Sheikh, was kidnapped outside his residence in Lahore.
Speaking to PPF, Sheikh’s colleague Khubaib Farooq said the media person was being held captive, and his current location is unknown. Sheikh had last reported on the events of May 9, after which he went missing on May 11. The Lahore Press Club and Punjab Union of Journalists are unaware of his case.
In another case, YouTuber and social media activist Anum Sheikh was arrested on May 19 and shifted to Adiala Jail in Rawalpindi.
Speaking to PPF, Sheikh’s sister Mariam Elahi, the YouTuber, was arrested on the “allegation of having an affiliation with the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf [political party].”
Elahi said that during court proceedings on May 23, the LHC Rawalpindi bench Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz asked Islamabad police about the charges on which Sheikh had been arrested.
As per police, she was arrested under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. During the proceedings, the LHC chief judge said her arrest was illegal and ordered Sheikh’s release. Sheikh was subsequently released.
GNN News Lahore Deputy Bureau Chief Sarfaraz Khan has been facing harassment from the Punjab police after covering the events of May 9.
According to Sarfaraz, since May 21, police have been harassing him and his family. Sharing his ordeal, Sarfaraz said that on May 21, he received calls from local police stations saying they were coming to his residence to arrest him.
The journalist shared that he was part of a team of four persons covering the events at Jinnah House after Imran Khan’s arrest, after which the police had called him to say that they were arresting him.
Sarfaraz urged authorities to stop the raids and to stop harassing journalists’ families.
GNN News Lahore Bureau Chief Shahzad Hussain Butt told PPF that Khan was on assignment on May 9.
Lahore Press Club President Choudhry told PPF that the Punjab government had formed a committee to address the issues of journalists and media professionals. As per Choudhry, Sarafaraz Khan’s case had also been solved, and he was now at peace.
On May 19, the Punjab Home Department announced the formation of the “Punjab Journalists Protection Coordination Committee.” Among other steps, as per the home department’s notification, the committee will intervene whenever a journalist comes under attack in the province, facilitate investigations, and recommend necessary actions.
Earlier, on May 9, international magazine The Nation correspondent Hassan Ali was manhandled and arrested by Islamabad police during coverage of the protests.
Ali told PPF that he had been “abducted” and “physically abused” by police during coverage in Islamabad.
“I will not say they arrested me; they abducted me; they did not give me time to show them my press card. I kept saying to them that I am a journalist; I was there to cover the protests,” Ali shared.
He added that police had grabbed him, manhandled, and abused him. His clothes were torn, and he was taken to the nearby RA Bazar Police Station, where his mobile phones were also stolen, he said.
“I was there to cover [the incidents] for my magazine as I am a journalist and have been working for an international magazine. I always used to hide a spare phone in my sock, and through that phone, I was able to contact my family,” Ali shared.
Following a lengthy verification process and a four-hour detention, police released him.
Meanwhile, in the Sindh province, journalist and social media activist associated with the daily Awami Awaz Nasrullah Gadani was arrested from Mirpur Mathelo in the Ghotki district on May 16.
An order issued by the Sindh Home Department stated that Gadani was “instigating and provoking public to block roads, highways and organize sit-ins which may disturb peace and tranquility, and can create serious law and order situations.”
The order stated that the government had “sufficient reasons” to believe that Gadani should be arrested under the Sindh Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960, and be detained for up to 30 days. As per the order, Gadani would be held in Central Prison Hyderabad.
On May 18, the Sindh Information Department wrote a letter to the provincial home department sharing that the Sindh Commission for Protection of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners (CPJMP) Chairman Justice Retired Rasheed said the allegations leveled were “vague and not sufficient” for Gadani to be kept in prison. On this basis, they requested the release of Gadani and the withdrawal of the order against him.
Gadani is yet to be released.