In Pakistan, journalists attacked, radio station torched, reporting muzzled
Many journalists and media outlets have been the targets of violence in the ongoing wave of protests in Pakistan in reaction to former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the organisers of these protests, as well as the civilian and military authorities, to allow journalists to work freely and in a spirit of respect for pluralism.
“During the current turmoil in Pakistan, it is absolutely crucial that journalists should be able to work without constraint in order to provide their fellow citizens and the world with reliable, freely-reported and independent news coverage. We call on the leaders of Imran Khan's party to give clear instructions to their rank and file to respect press freedom. At the same time, we urge Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s civilian government and Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir to respect diversity of opinions and to allow the media cover these historic events.
Wrecked studios, burned microphones, tape recordings gone up in smoke… This was the provisional toll of a violent attack yesterday (10 May) on Radio Pakistan, the state-owned radio station in Peshawar, the capital of the northern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
About 200 demonstrators stormed the entrance to the building housing the radio station in the morning. The station’s managing director, Ijaz Khan, described in a statement how they quickly ransacked the reception area and then smashed furniture in several studios.
Recordings reduced to ashes
At around noon, after being joined by several hundred more protesters, the mob launched a new assault, this time setting fire to the building, destroying computer equipment, reducing the station’s historical recordings to ashes, and setting fire to three vehicles parked in the compound. One of the station’s employees had to be hospitalised with serious burns.
The day before, reporters trying to cover the protests in Peshawar were attacked by protesters. The satellite transmission vehicles of Dawn News TV, Aaj News, Khyber News and Express News were subjected to rock throwing and baton attacks.
The Dawn News TV truck was badly damaged and one of its occupants, journalist Arif Hayat, was injured by flying glass. Express News reporter Vishal Khan was among those attacked by protesters.
These protests took place one day after the arrest of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister from 2028 to 2022, on 9 May. The supporters of his party, called Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (“Pakistan Movement for Justice” – PTI) immediately took to the streets in the country’s biggest cities on 9 May to give vent to their anger and then, yesterday (10 May), began violently targeting the symbols of civilian and military authority.
RSF condemned the blocking of many social media and the drastic slowdown of broadband services that was ordered yesterday by Pakistan’s telecoms regulator, which is a government offshoot.
The police have meanwhile arrested at least two journalists with media outlets regarded as close to Imran Khan’s PTI party. Bol News TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan was arrested this morning at Sialkot airport, in eastern Pakistan, for “inciting violence.”
Almost at the same time, Samaa TV anchor Aftab Iqbal was arrested at his home in Lahore, according to reports that were confirmed a few hours later by his daughter in a tweet.
Although the Supreme Court ruled late this afternoon that Imran Khan’s arrest was “invalid,” there seems to have been no let-up in the anger on the streets. Soldiers have been deployed on major thoroughfares in the capital, Islamabad, and in several other major cities, blocking access to journalists.