Should Pakistani journalists living in Europe fear for their lives? That is the question that they will be asking after Muhammad Gohir Khan appeared at the Old Bailey central criminal court in London yesterday for a preliminary hearing in the case against him. The court said Khan is accused of “conspiring with persons unknown” to murder Ahmad Waqass Goraya, a Pakistani blogger who has lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
Goraya has been in hiding ever since the Dutch police warned him on 12 February of serious threats to his life.
It has emerged that Khan took a train from London to Amsterdam in February, and rented a car in order to check out where Goraya lived in Rotterdam. “Someone even tweeted a photo taken inside my home,” Goraya said. Khan was finally arrested by Scotland Yard last month and is being held pending a trial expected to take place next January.
“No lead should be neglected”
“We are relieved to learn of the progress in the judicial proceedings against the person who planned to murder Ahmad Waqass Goraya,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “But let’s not forget that a conspiracy is not an isolated act. We therefore urge the British and Dutch police to do everything possible to identify this murder plot’s accomplices and instigators. No lead should be neglected and, if necessary, they should summon Pakistani diplomatic representatives in Europe for questioning.”
While Goraya was in Pakistan in early 2017, he was kidnapped and tortured for several weeks. It was this abduction, which he blamed on a “government institution linked to the army” that prompted him to flee back to the Netherlands. After being assaulted by two men outside his Rotterdam home on 2 February, 2020 Goraya told RSF that their attack “fits the modus operandi of Pakistani spy agencies.”
Hunt for dissident journalists
Another Pakistani journalist, Balochistan Times editor Sajid Hussain, disappeared on 2 March, 2020 in Sweden, where he had been given political asylum. After his body was finally retrieved from a river on 23 April, RSF drew attention to several circumstances indicating that he was murdered, but Swedish prosecutors ended up ruling out murder.
“The claims that the journalist Sajid Hussain was murdered in Sweden were met only with scepticism and unfortunately did not lead to any urgently-needed concern about the safety of exiled Pakistani journalists or about the threats they face,” Goraya noted.
But, when contacted by RSF after yesterday’s hearing in London, Goraya said he sensed, “the beginning of an awareness that Pakistani dissidents are not safe in western countries.” And, referring to Khan’s detention, he added: “This arrest is a first important step towards justice and accountability. The hunt for dissidents must be stopped.”
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.