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Human Rights Watch Slams Imran Khan on Press Freedom

by Newsweek Pakistan

FIle photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

In editorial, global watchdog’s Asia director says Pakistan uses arbitrary arrests and baseless criminal prosecutions as instruments of press censorship

Pakistan uses arbitrary arrests, detentions and “baseless criminal prosecutions” as instruments of press censorship, Human Rights Watch’s Asia director has said in an editorial published on Thursday.

Headlined Pakistan’s Hypocrisy on Press Freedom, the editorial by Brad Adams criticizes Prime Minister Imran Khan for declaring, in an interview with Al Jazeera, that there was no media crackdown in Pakistan. The prime minister went on to claim that his ministers felt “unprotected” from propaganda, claiming this was worse than any censorship.

Referring to the ongoing detention of Jang group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakilur Rehman, who was arrested in March by the National Accountability Bureau on charges linked to a 34-year-old property transaction, Adams noted that the 63-year-old had been denied bail on medical grounds. “The Supreme Court Bar Association and the Pakistan Bar Council, the top elected bodies of lawyers in the country, criticized the ruling as ‘disappointing and painful’,” he added.

Highlighting that NAB is often criticized for being used for “political purposes,” the Human Rights Watch Asia director said it is “evident that the charges against Rehman were politically motivated,” adding that the ordeal “epitomizes the fast-shrinking space for dissent and criticism in Pakistan.”

Rehman, entering his sixth month of pre-trial detention, has become the latest target of a “frequently” used tool of Pakistani authorities against those they want to punish or intimidate, writes Adams. “The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has stated that ‘pretrial detention should be an exception and as short as possible’,” he added.

“In Pakistan, arbitrary arrest, detention, and baseless criminal prosecutions are used as instruments of press censorship. So long as Rehman and others in the media are punished for practicing journalism, Prime Minister Khan’s statement that ‘I don’t mind criticism’ is not worth the paper it won’t be printed on,” he added.

The incumbent PTI-led government has repeatedly come under fire for press censorship in Pakistan, with journalists accusing it of denying dues owed to media outlets in an attempt to control their narrative; and, most recently, of a group of woman journalists joining hands to demand the government restrain government-allied social media accounts from harassing them for their reportage.

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