Pakistan: Journalists should not be harassed or intimidated through criminal justice system

Pakistan’s authorities must ensure that the criminal justice system is not used to harass or intimidate journalists, Amnesty International said today.

The human rights organization raised its concern after the Lahore High Court’s decision to issue non-bailable arrest warrants for prominent Pakistani journalist Cyril Almeida and impose a ban on his traveling outside the country.

Cyril Almeida, Assistant Editor at Dawn newspaper, has been summoned by the court for conducting an interview in May 2018 with former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is facing charges of treason for comments he made in the interview alleging a link between the Pakistani military and armed groups.

“Cyril Almeida has simply been doing his job as a journalist. He conducted an interview with a former prime minister and reported what he was told. While the Lahore High Court is entitled to demand his appearance, the authorities must be careful not to use the criminal justice system to harass or intimidate journalists. Journalism is not a crime and journalists doing their work should not be treated as criminals,” said Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International.

The Lahore High Court says that it is compelling Cyril Almeida to appear before it after issuing repeated notices. The Dawn newspaper, however, says that the first two notices were never delivered and the third only arrived last week.

Journalism is not a crime and journalists doing their work should not be treated as criminals
Omar Waraich

Cyril Almeida and Dawn newspaper have both said that they are willing to fully cooperate with the courts.

This is not the first time a travel ban has been imposed on Cyril Almeida. In October 2016, his name was put on Pakistan’s Exit Control List amid a furore over an article he published on tensions between the then civilian government and the military over alleged links to armed groups.

In 2016, Cyril Almeida and Zaffar Abbas, the editor of Dawn, appeared before a high-level inquiry tribunal that asked them questions about the newspaper article.

Over recent months, since Cyril Almeida’s interview with Nawaz Sharif was published, Dawn has seen its circulation heavily disrupted in the country while the newspaper has come under intense pressure for its independent editorial policy. News agents have been warned against stocking the newspaper and street vendors have been harassed and intimidated for selling it.

On 7 June 2018, speaking at a meeting of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society in Islamabad, Hameed Haroon, the CEO of the Dawn Media Group warned that Pakistan is “encountering the most dangerous attack” on the right to freedom of expression.

“The new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a number of very positive pledges when it comes to human rights. We expect his government will also commit to the protection of freedom of expression, and ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists and other human rights defenders, so that they can do their work freely and without fear of reprisals,” said Omar Waraich.