Pakistani police should launch a thorough investigation into allegations that Federal Investigation Agency officials assaulted and briefly detained journalists in Islamabad last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
An FIA officer on June 21, 2017 allegedly harassed and detained Channel 24 reporter Saba Bajeer and Dawn News reporter Aitzaz Hassan while they questioned Muhammad Zafar-ul-Haq Hijazi, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, at an Islamabad hospital where he was being examined following his arrest on charges of tampering with records, according to news reports.
Bajeer told CPJ that an FIA officer insisted that she delete photographs she had taken of Hijazi with her phone, and that she agreed to do so, but that when she refused to hand over her phone, the official grabbed her arm and pushed her against a wall. The official also pushed Hassan and took his mobile phone and memory cards, Dawnreported.
Bajeer said the officer then detained her and Hassan for an hour, continued to threaten and to insult her, and forced her and Hassan to write and sign apologies. A Channel 24team and other reporters arrived at the hospital to help the two, but FIA officials assaulted them, causing light injuries and damaging the journalists’ camera equipment, Bajeer said. Dawn reported that members of Hijazi’s family also assaulted the journalists.
Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan requested a report on the incident, according to Dawn, and Ahmed Latif, the acting director of the FIA, ordered an inquiry as well, according to The Nation newspaper, but police did not open a criminal investigation, according to Dawn. Journalists protested in Islamabad over the weekend to call on police to open a First Information Report, the first step toward a criminal investigation, on the alleged assault, Dawn reported.
“Pakistani police should show that no one, not even a federal law enforcement officer, is above the law, and that journalists cannot be attacked for asking questions and taking photographs,” said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator at CPJ. “Saba Bajeer and Aitzaz Hassan were simply doing their jobs and had done nothing to warrant being assaulted or detained.”
FIA officials did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls or email requesting comment.
“I don’t want what happened to me to happen to any other journalist,” Bajeer told CPJ. “If these types of actions are allowed to keep happening, it will make it more difficult for women and all journalists to do their jobs.”