Two missing journalists
Two recent cases involving the continuing detention of journalists are a disturbing reminder of how citizens’ rights and freedoms are callously disregarded in the country.
Reporter and political activist Rasheed Azam has been in custody since August 2003 on charges of sedition after being allegedly found in possession of photographs of army personnel beating up a crowd of young Balochs.
According to the HRCP and Human Rights Watch, Mr Azam has been tortured in detention, and remains in custody after a local court refused bail. The Balochistan High Court has been moved for bail by his professional colleagues but a hearing is yet to be held.
The other case is of Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, activist and a stringer for a foreign publication. Mr Rizvi had taken two French journalists to Quetta and has been held incommunicado since December 16, the day the Frenchmen were arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency on grounds of visa violation. While the foreign journalists have already been charged, tried, sentenced and then allowed to return to France, Mr Rizvi continues to languish in custody. No charge has been framed against him and he has yet to be produced in a court for a remand.
A bench of the Sindh High Court, having a habeas corpus petition regarding the detainee pending before it, has been unable to do anything because it is yet to be ascertained who exactly is holding Mr Rizvi. For their part, both the federal and provincial governments deny any responsibility in Mr Rizvi’s detention or any knowledge of his whereabouts. Can there be a more baffling position to adopt where a person’s liberty and physical well-being are so critically involved?
The cases of the two missing journalists are proof of the propensity of certain elements within the government to act as if they are completely above the law. Besides, it does not behove senior government functionaries to keep telling high court judges that they have no knowledge of an individual’s detention when there is documentary evidence to the contrary. If any crime has been committed, the two men should be charged and given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. If not, then they should be immediately released.