Pakistani Journalists Face Criminal Proceedings for Criticizing Military

VOA News FILE – Police officers escort Pakistani journalist Mohsin Baig, center, for his court appearance, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 16, 2022. Police arrested Baig at his home on unspecified charges, his colleagues and local media said.

Islamabad — Police in Pakistan have launched criminal proceedings against at least six journalists and political talk show hosts in retaliation for their work, defense attorneys told a high court Monday.

A string of identical complaints has been registered with police in several Pakistani cities by so-called “patriotic citizens” over the past couple of days, accusing the journalists of spreading hate against the army and state institutions in their reporting.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described the cases as “political retaliation” and accused the government of being behind the slew of complaints.

News of the criminal proceedings coincided with a statement issued Monday by Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA), warning digital news outlets and broadcasters against airing content that “ridicules” state institutions, particularly the judiciary and army. A federal institution, PEMRA, which is responsible for the regulation and issuing of broadcast, print, and electronic media licenses, warned that violations could be met with immediate broadcast suspensions and fines.

Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 on the most recent World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Pakistani journalists are routinely subjected to violence, harassment and intimidation, but never before have so many media personnel collectively faced criminal proceedings.

Some of the journalists in question, including Arshad Sharif, host of a popular political talk show on private ARY channel, petitioned a court in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, through their attorneys to seek judicial protection against arrest.

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