On August 27, Noorani, a co-founder and reporter at the independent investigative news website FactFocus, published an article that used pubic records to detail the financial assets of retired Army General Asim Saleem Bajwa, who chairs Pakistan’s Chinese-financed infrastructure projects and is a special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting.
On August 29, the privately owned TV broadcaster ARY News aired a segment, which CPJ viewed, that called Noorani’s report “fake news” and insinuated that Noorani was acting in the interests of India and the United States.
Immediately after that segment aired, Noorani began receiving death threats on Facebook and Twitter, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview and shared screenshots of the threats with CPJ and on Twitter. One message said “Your death is very close” and proceeded to call Noorani a “prostitute Indian agent” and a “traitor of Pakistan.” He said the messages also included threats concerning his family.
The ARY News broadcast also mentioned Gul Bukhari, a Pakistani journalist living in exile in the U.K., who told CPJ that she also received abuse and death and rape threats following the broadcast and would be seeking police protection.
“Pakistan authorities must investigate who is behind these malicious online attacks on journalists Ahmad Noorani and Gul Bukhari, and ensure that such threats are not tolerated,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Journalists cannot do their essential work when they fear for their lives or their families’ safety, and it is the responsibility of Pakistan’s government to create an environment in which reporting in the public interest isn’t a dangerous act.”
A statement by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and co-signed by other rights groups, which CPJ reviewed and which was summarized by Dawn, denounced the threats as a “well-orchestrated campaign against the journalist [Noorani], declaring him anti-state and [an] agent of the enemy.”
Another journalist named in the ARY story, Mubashir Ali Zaidi, told CPJ that while he is accustomed to receiving online abuse, death threats and other abusive messages increased significantly after the ARY report. Zaidi until recently was a reporter for U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America.
Noorani, who is presently in the United States, told CPJ that he was preparing a complaint against ARY that he would file with the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, and was prepared to seek action from the Federal Investigation Agency, which has authority to investigate cybercrime. Noorani was nearly killed in a 2017 attack in Islamabad, as CPJ documented in a 2018 report and documentary about intimidation and censorship in Pakistan.
ARY News did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. On Twitter, Bajwa denounced Noorani’s report on his finances as a “malicious propaganda story,” but he did not address the details of the report