After registering nine cases of intimidation of Pakistani journalists by army-related agencies since Shehbaz Sharif took over as Prime Minister in late April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has cautioned the army high command against further harassment of the media, which would seriously undermine Pakistani democracy.
“The many cases of harassment that RSF has registered in the past two months have one thing in common – all the journalists concerned had, in one way or another, criticised the army’s role in Pakistani politics,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“It is clear from the data that the armed forces have launched a major campaign to intimidate critical journalists. This kind of interference, which is absolutely intolerable, must stop at once or else the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, will be held directly responsible for the decline in press freedom in Pakistan.”
The latest case of violence registered by RSF was on July 9, when BOL News anchor Sami Ibrahim was attacked by three people outside the TV channel’s studios in Melody, a district in Islamabad, the capital.
In a video, Ibrahim said they were waiting for him outside the TV channel in order to harass him while filming the scene. They then left in a car with green licence plates, the sign of a state-owned vehicle.
The incident comes six weeks after judicial proceedings were opened against Ibrahim under articles 499, 505 and 131 of the penal code, which penalise defamation, statements conducive to public mischief and “abetting mutiny”, respectively. The latter charge carries a possible life sentence.
By way of mutiny, Ibrahim simply questioned the internal mechanisms of the Pakistani state apparatus and, in particular, the army’s role in politics. The proceedings were initiated as a result of complaints filed with the police in Attock, a city in Punjab province that is 70 km west of Islamabad
It was in Attock that another well-known TV journalist, Express News TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan, was intercepted and arrested by a dozen policemen accompanied by members of a Punjab special elite force on the evening of July 5 at a toll plaza on the road to Islamabad, where he had planned to obtain pre-arrest bail to avoid the arrest he knew was imminent if he remained in Punjab.