Two Pakistani journalists risk face possible death sentence on absurd “mutiny” claims

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Pakistani prosecutors to immediately dismiss the ludicrous mutiny accusations in a complaint with no credibility that two individuals has brought against two journalists in the capital, Islamabad. Although manifestly absurd, the charges could carry the death penalty.

The two journalists accused of “abetting mutiny” in a complaint filed with the Islamabad police on 12 June are Wajahat Saeed Khan, a freelancer based in the United States, and Shaheen Sehbai, the former editor of The News International newspaper. Known as a “First information Report” or FIR, the complaint also names Adil Raja and Syed Haider Raza Mehdi, two former Pakistani army officers who often criticise the current army high command on YouTube and other social media.

RSF has seen a copy of the FIR, which was filed by a man who identifies himself as Muhammad Aslam. He claims that he was walking in Islamabad’s G-11 district on 9 May when he saw around 20 demonstrators “sharing screenshots of tweets and video messages” from the social media accounts of the four persons named in the FIR.

Absurd claims

On this basis alone, Aslam claims that these four persons, “under a planned conspiracy and mutual agreement, are aiding anti-state agencies” that want to “weaken the army” and “increase terrorism” in Pakistan.

RSF has established that the four persons, the two journalists and the two former army officers, have absolutely nothing in common. The statements made by the two former army officers on social media video channels may breach regulations governing military secrecy. But the two journalists have just practiced journalism.

“Make no mistake – the sole purpose of this ludicrous complaint, which arbitrarily associates the names of Wajahat Khan and Shaheen Sehbai with those of rebel ex-army officers, is to intimidate the two journalists into silence. In view of the absurdity of the supposed incriminating evidence, we call on the Islamabad prosecutor’s office to dismiss this complaint, which should never have been received. The credibility of the rule of law in Pakistan and, above all, judicial independence in the face of unacceptable military interference, is at stake.

Daniel Bastard
Head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk

Khan, the US-based freelancer, had already told RSF last week that he was being subjected to mounting harassment, some of it targeting his family and professional partners. And he has no illusions about the nature of the allegations brought against him this week. He said the police officer who registered the FIR told his lawyer that “this case is not under his ambit, which indicates that some other authorities are handling this matter, possibly extra-legally.”

In the run-up to general elections that are due to be held on a still-undetermined date in the coming weeks, Pakistan’s journalists – both those in Pakistan and those abroad – are being subjected to growing harassment by the military establishment and intelligence agencies.

String of abductions

Imran Riaz Khan, a TV news anchor and political commentator who is well known for his criticism of the army, has been missing for more than a month. RSF’s call to the civilian authorities to reveal what has happened to him has been echoed by many civil society representatives but there has been no satisfactory response from the authorities.

Geo News TV producer Zubair Anjum was abducted from his Karachi home on the night of 5 June by uniformed police officers and plainclothesmen with no warrant. Released 12 hours later, he has so far refrained from saying what happened to him while held.

Another journalist, Gohar Wazir, was repeatedly beaten and given electric shocks during the 30 hours that he was held after his abduction on 19 April in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He said his abductors released him only after he agreed to record a video supporting the Pakistani military.

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Score : 33.9
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