Pakistani journalist Bilal Farooqi, who is known for being a vocal critic of the military, government, and religious extremist groups, has been arrested on charges of defaming the country’s powerful army and spreading religious hatred.
The police have cited the country’s cyber crime law as the basis for his arrest.
According to a police report seen by Reuters, “Through his (social media) posts, Bilal Farooqi defamed the Pakistan Army and anti-state elements used these posts for their vested interests.”
The report also states that Farooqi’s online activity spread religious hatred and incited mutiny against the military.
Series of arrests
Farooqi’s arrest is the latest in a spate of such moves against journalists who have been critical of the government and comes days after Prime Minister Imran Khan reiterated that Pakistan has a free media.
In July, another journalist, Matiullah Jan, also a critic of Pakistan’s military and government, was freed hours after being abducted. His disappearance sparked an outcry amongst journalists and rights activists, but no explanation was given for his abduction.
Critics of the cyber crime law argue that it contains vague language that can be used to criminalize basic online activities with fines and long-term imprisonment. Online criticism of religion, the country, its courts and armed forces are among subjects attracting prosecution.
Farooqi’s arrest comes after a string of similar incidents targeting journalists in Pakistan. Earlier this week, a former journalist returned home days after disappearing from Islamabad. He has given no details about what happened to him. Farooqi had written a tweet about the man’s “enforced disappearance,” saying: “The powerful are above the law in this country.”
Last year, journalist Shahzeb Jilani, was charged under laws relating to cyber terrorism, hate speech, electronic fraud, incitement, and defamation, but the case was thrown out of court due to lack of evidence. At least four journalists and bloggers have been killed in connection with their reporting in the last year in Pakistan.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) has expressed increasing concern at instances of incitement to violence against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan.
In a statement, the UNHCR said, “We have raised our concerns directly with the government and we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats.”
Concerns of press state
These recent developments have raised serious concerns about the state of press freedom in Pakistan.
Journalists and human rights activists have long criticized the government for its lack of action in protecting journalists and ensuring a free press. The arrests and abductions of critical journalists, along with the vague language of the cyber crime law, have only added to these concerns.
Many believe that the government should take immediate action to ensure the safety and protection of journalists and human rights activists.
This includes investigating and holding accountable those responsible for the violence and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders, and amending the cyber crime law to ensure that it does not criminalize basic online activities.
The international community has also urged the government of Pakistan to take action to protect journalists and human rights activists.
The arrests and abductions of critical journalists have sparked international condemnation, and many have called on the government to take immediate action to ensure the safety and protection of journalists and human rights activists.