Pressure mounted on the Pakistani media on Friday after a journalist was reportedly arrested in Karachi for spreading hatred and maligning a state institution on social media. On the same day, sedition charges were filed against another journalist, in Jhelum.
Bilal Farooqi, news editor at the English language daily The Express Tribune, was picked up by police from outside his home in Karachi on Friday, two days after a report was registered against him.
He was released on Saturday morning on the personal bail of his lawyer Jibran Nasir. Bilal’s family confirmed that he has returned home.
The journalist has been reporting on sectarian violence in the country.
Tashfeen Farooqi, Bilal Farooqi’s wife, earlier told the media that her husband was taken away by the police from right outside their home.
She reportedly said their landlord had asked Bilal to step out of the house with his identity card as the police were conducting a “survey” in the locality. “When he (Bilal) didn’t return, I went outside to find out what happened. Bilal wasn’t there. The landlord then told me the police took him away,” Tashfeen said, adding that according to the landlord, Bilal was driven away by two policemen accompanied by two men in plainclothes.
Reports say that after a while, Tashfeen received a phone call from Bilal, who told her that he was being held at the Defence police station. Soon after, police officials visited Bilal’s residence and took possession of his mobile phone from his wife.
Meanwhile, an FIR citing sedition charges against journalist Absar Alam was registered in Jhelum. Alam, a former chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, was reportedly charged with using derogatory language against state institutions and personalities.
Reacting to these two developments, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) said in a statement the government wants to suppress the media.
PFUJ president Shehzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi said, “If both the fabricated and concocted cases are not withdrawn immediately, we will be left with the only option to call a strike and protest cross the country, which may harm the current government and tarnish the image of the country just because of ill-conceived ideas of the decision-makers.”
Last week, Sajid Gondal, a joint director at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, had gone missing and returned home five days later. Gondal is believed to have helped with a news story investigating the assets of Lt Gen (retd) Saleem Bajwa, the chairman of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Authority and an information aide to Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In July, Matiullah Jan, a journalist known for his criticism of the military establishment, was reportedly abducted from Islamabad in broad daylight. He returned home after several hours after the incident sparked a public outcry.