The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the prolonged detention of Newsweek stringer Sami Yousafzai. We call on your government to release him immediately.
Sami Yousafzai was last seen on April 21, 2004, when he was detained with U.S. freelance journalist Eliza Griswold at a military checkpoint in Bannu, a town in the North West Frontier Province near the tribal areas in western Pakistan. Yousafzai, Griswold, and the car’s driver, Mohamed Salim, were then arrested and taken away separately for questioning, according to local reports. Security officers in Peshawar, the regional capital, held Griswold for questioning for several hours and later released her. Yousafzai and Salim have not been heard from since their arrest.
Yousafzai, an Afghan national and an experienced journalist, has reported from Peshawar for several years and is a former correspondent for the English-language daily The News.
Local journalists say that Yousafzai and Salim are being held incommunicado in Peshawar, where they are being questioned by joint interrogation teams from security, military, and civilian agencies. Despite holding the two men for almost three weeks, local authorities have yet to confirm that Yousafzai and Salim are in their custody. No known charges have been filed against them, they have not been given any legal representation, and their families have not been allowed to see them.
Yousafzai’s arrest appears to be part of a disturbing pattern of targeting local journalists who work with foreign reporters. In December 2003, another Pakistani journalist who had worked with foreign journalists, Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, was arrested and secretly detained for several weeks before being charged with sedition, conspiracy, and impersonation. Rizvi was released on bail on March 27, 2004, but the charges against him, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, still stand.
In interviews, Rizvi has said that he was tortured while he was in secret detention. CPJ is deeply concerned that Yousafzai may also be abused while in government custody. Local journalists interpret Yousafzai’s ongoing detention as a strong warning to others in the journalism community.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ calls on Your Excellency to do everything within your power to ensure that Sami Yousafzai and Mohamed Salim are released immediately, and that any charges against them are made public. A free and open press is an integral part of your vision for a modern and democratic Pakistan. Journalists must be allowed to do their jobs safely, without suffering reprisals for their reporting.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.