Islamabad: At least three journalists in Pakistan have been charged for alleged sedition in the past week, raising concerns that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is increasingly intolerant of media criticism.
Bilal Farooqi, the news editor at the Express Tribune, said he was arrested by the Karachi police last week on charges of sedition for defaming the country’s army and criticizing the government but later he was released on bail. Absar Alam, a former anchor at AAJ news channel, said he also faced similar accusations in charges made available to him by police. Asad Ali Toor, a journalist at Samaa television, is facing a sedition case, the local media reported.
Many prominent journalists in Pakistan have taken to social media to describe their battles with government censorship. Reporters Without Borders has lowered Pakistan’s ranking by three points to 145 out of about 180 in its 2020 World Press Index. The ranking has dropped six notches since Khan, once a vocal advocate of the free media, came to power in 2018. The prime minister has claimed the press enjoys unprecedented freedom in the South Asian nation.
“The arrest of Bilal was a part of the nefarious and concerted plan to gag the free media and independent voices,” the Karachi Union of Journalists, said in a statement. The government has no tolerance for dissenting views and criticism of any kind, Farooqi said on phone from Karachi on Tuesday. Such cases are an “honor in a fascist regime,” Alam said on phone.
Zafar Abbas, a spokesman for Pakistan’s interior ministry, was not immediately available for comments on journalists being booked for treason.
In July, a senior journalist, Matiullah Jan, claimed he was kidnapped from Islamabad by the security forces and later released after pressure from the media groups. Jan is known for being a strong critic of Khan and the army’s alleged involvement in politics. The country’s powerful military has ruled Pakistan for about half of its seven-decade history. – Bloomberg
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