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Pakistani journalist arrested for criticizing army

September 12, 2020

Reporter Bilal Farooqi was arrested on charges of defaming Pakistan’s powerful army and spreading religious hatred. The military claims "anti-state elements" took advantage of his social media posts.

Security personnel outside a court in Pakistan | Peshawar
Image: AFP/Str

Pakistani authorities have detained a local journalist known to be a vocal critic of the army in Karachi on Friday. This is the latest in a series of arrests and abductions of journalists who have criticized the government.

According to the charges, Bilal Farooqi was involved in spreading hateful content about the country’s army and spreading religious hate.

Read more: Matiullah Jan: Critical journalists 'routinely threatened' in Pakistan

"Through his (social media) posts, Bilal Farooqi defamed the Pakistan Army and anti-state elements used these posts for their vested interests," said the police report, which added that his online activity also spread religious hatred and incited mutiny against the military.

Farooqi’s mobile phone was confiscated during a search of his house.

Attacks on dissent

Despite Prime Minister Imran Khan asserting that the country has a free media, attacks, abductions and arrests of journalists have become increasingly common, critics say. Last year, at least four people were killed in connection with their reporting.

In July, journalist Matiullah Jan was abductedbefore being released hours later. He has also been critical of Pakistan’s government and military, which has resulted in the use of intimidation tactics against him.

"I personally have experienced 10 years of harassment and intimidation for my critical work as a journalist. None of these incidents were investigated by police," Jan wrote for DW. 

Pakistan: Where education lacks, superstitions run wild

International pressure

Farooqi faces charges linked to Pakistan’s cybercrime law, which covers online criticism of the army, judiciary, religion and the country at large. Vague language is one of the tools used to criminalize even basic online activities. 

Increased persecution of journalists and those critical of the government has led to international organizations expressing concern about the state of free speech in the country.

"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," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria said in a statement earlier this week.

see/dj (Reuters, AP)