Where is the Pakistani TV anchor who has been missing for 12 days?
*25/09/23 update: Imran Riaz Khan was released on September 25, 2023, after more than 4 months of detention in harsh conditions, on which RSF calls on the Pakistani authorities to shed full light.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) fears for a missing TV anchor’s life and calls on Pakistan’s civilian government to ensure respect for the rule of law by immediately revealing where and in what conditions he is being held. RSF will hold the government responsible for any harm that may have come to him.
BOL News star anchor Imran Riaz Khan, often referred to as just Imran Riaz, has been missing ever since his arrest on 11 May by airport police at Sialkot international airport in the eastern province of Punjab. He was arrested under a prevention of violence order amid widespread protests in response to former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s arrest.
The police originally claimed that he was released at around 10:30 p.m. the same day, although they now acknowledge that he was taken away in a police van after his “release” by the police.
This admission was made at a hearing yesterday (22 May) before the high court in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, at which the police had previously been ordered to produce the journalist in court in response to the complaint (known as a “first information report”) filed by his father on 16 May.
RSF has seen the transcript of the hearing. What the Punjab police inspector general told the court was a clear acknowledgement of state responsibility. “We have asked police across Pakistan,” the inspector general said. “No one has Imran Riaz (...) Imran Riaz Khan was not wanted by us. However, ‘agencies’ had asked for a police van. Why they had asked for a police van, [the court] can summon the agencies and ask.”
“There is no point closing one’s eyes to the ‘agencies’ euphemism. It was clearly Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies that abducted Imran Riaz Khan. It is up to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s civilian government to ensure respect for the rule of law by producing the journalist in court or ordering his release. Failing this, the Pakistani authorities will be held directly responsible for any harm that may have befallen him.
According to confidential diplomatic sources consulted by RSF, the government’s silence about the TV anchor’s fate suggests that he may have fared badly since his abduction and may even have died in detention.
The TV anchor had become the military’s bugbear because of his and his TV channel’s support for former Prime Minister Imran Khan. He was previously arrested on 5 July 2022 on the basis of complaints filed by the prosecutor’s office in connection with his criticism of the power of the military and intelligence agencies. And he was detained again in February of this year until a judge ordered his release.
State within the state
Pakistan’s military, which acts as a “state within the state,” is often alleged to have used its various intelligence agencies and their henchmen to abduct journalists and even torture them while they are held.
The most recent previous target was Gohar Wazir, a journalist whose abduction on 19 April was condemned by RSF at the time. Repeatedly beaten and given electric shocks during the 30 hours that he was held, Wazir said he was released only after agreeing to record a video supporting the Pakistani military.
The BOL News anchor’s profile recalls that of Arshad Sharif, an anchor with ARY News, which also supports the former prime minister. Fearing abduction, Sharif fled Pakistan in August 2022 and found refuge to Kenya only to be slain by two gunshots fired at close range in a Nairobi suburb on 23 October. The evidence gathered by RSF points clearly to Pakistani responsibility.