It’s not often that CPJ agrees with the Pakistan government, but here is one of the rare occasions when we do. While Pakistan journalists have been pushing for quite a while for the release of one of their colleagues, Faizullah Khan, being held in Nangahar in Afghanistan, the Islamabad government has apparently been working diplomatic back channels. But Thursday, Pervez Rashid, Pakistan’s minister for information, went public. He urged Afghanistan’s leader to issue a presidential pardon. “I appeal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to use his powers,” to pardon Khan, Rashid said in a press conference in capital Islamabad. He also said the government will pursue his release through legal channels.
Khan, a reporter for the Karachi-based privately owned news channel ARY News, was arrested around April 22 in Nangahar province and convicted this month of entering Afghanistan without proper travel documents. He had originally been charged of spying–apparently because he had been in contact with some Taliban groups as part of his work as a journalist–but those charges were soon dropped as police carried out their investigation. Khan, his family and ARY management insist that he was in Afghanistan as a working journalist. Even if he was guilty of the travel-document charges, the four-year term he was handed by a panel of three judges in Nangahar seems excessive.
While CPJ wouldn’t presume to ask Karzai to interfere with the Afghan judicial process, it would be good if the Afghan government could arrange for Khan’s release in a humanitarian gesture, so that he will be able to rejoin his family in time to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which is expected on Tuesday. Doing so would be widely seen as a gesture of good will by the Karzai administration and all of Afghanistan, not just toward Pakistani journalists but toward the broader South Asian media community.