Pakistan authorities should immediately drop their investigations into journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat, and cease harassing members of the press in retaliation for their coverage of public institutions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On August 7, officers with the Federal Investigation Agency arrested Mir, CEO of the privately owned news agency Googly News TV, and Shafqat, who hosts the YouTube news commentary channel Tellings with Imran Shafqat, according to news reports and both journalists, who spoke with CPJ in phone interviews.
Googly News TV publishes on a website and YouTube channel, which has about 360,000 subscribers; Tellings with Imran Shafqat is a YouTube channel with about 120,000 subscribers. Both outlets feature investigative reporting and political commentary on Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy.
Officers arrested Mir at about 10:30 a.m. while he was on his way to Googly News TV’s office in the city of Lahore, held him for about 10 hours, and then released him on bail pending investigation, he told CPJ. Officers arrested Shafqat at about 12:30 p.m. at his home, also in Lahore, held him for about five hours, and then also released him on bail, he said.
Officers confiscated two phones and a laptop from Mir during his arrest and demanded his passwords, which he refused to divulge; officers also confiscated Shafqat’s phone, the journalists told CPJ. Shafqat said officers returned his SIM card upon his release, and Mir said his phones and laptop were still in official custody.
“Pakistan authorities’ arrests of journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat are emblematic of the government’s ongoing campaign to chill critical reporting,” said Carlos Martinez de La Serna, CPJ’s program director. “The Federal Investigation Agency must immediately drop its investigations into the journalists, return their confiscated devices, and cease harassing members of the press in retaliation for their coverage.”
Authorities are investigating the journalists for alleged electronic forgery; making, obtaining, or supplying a device for an offense; and the transmission of malicious code, all crimes under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, according to a press release issued by the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency.
Authorities are also investigating Mir and Shafqat under articles of the Pakistan penal code pertaining to forgery for the purpose of harming a reputation; defamation; issuing a statement with an intent to cause public mischief; and insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment, that press release said.
Each of those offenses can carry a prison sentence between six months and seven years, and a fine up to five million rupees (US$30,425), according to that law and the penal code.
Mir and Shafqat each issued statements denying the allegations against them, which CPJ reviewed.
Babar Bakht Qureshi, director of the Federal Investigation Agency’s cybercrime wing, said that Mir and Shafqat were arrested after posting “scandalous content” on social media following a complaint by Murad Saeed, the federal minister for communications and minister for postal services, according to reports.
CPJ called Saeed’s office at the Ministry of Communications for comment, but received a message that the line was unavailable; CPJ emailed the ministry but did not receive any reply.
Mir and Shafqat told CPJ that officials questioned them separately about the reasons behind their alleged criticism of Pakistan’s army and judiciary online, but did not cite specific reports during the interrogations. Officials also demanded that Mir and Shafqat issue affidavits stating that they will refrain from criticizing Pakistan’s army and judiciary, but they refused to comply, they said.
Mir told CPJ that he received a partial copy of the police report relating to him and Shafqat, but had not received a full copy. Shafqat told CPJ that he had not received a copy of the police report.
The partial copy of the police report, which CPJ reviewed, cites several videos posted to the YouTube channels of Googly News TV and Tellings with Imran Shafqat, including commentary on the Pakistan army’s role in governance, the judiciary, and the regional impact of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Since July 2020, Mir has received two notices and a questionnaire from the Federal Investigation Agency in relation to Googly News TV’s commentary on YouTube about the army, judiciary, and Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to Mir and copies of the notices, which CPJ reviewed.
CPJ emailed Federal Investigation Agency Director-General Sanaullah Abbasi for comment, but did not receive any reply.