Washington D.C., January 18, 2017--Pakistan should immediately release Ikhlaque Ahmed Jokhio and Qurban Ali Gadehi, two reporters for the Sindhi-language weekly Saahiti Awaz who were sentenced to five years in prison for criminal defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
"Journalists should never be sent to jail because of their reporting," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "We call for the immediate release of Ikhlaque Ahmed Jokhio and Qurban Ali Gadehi and for Pakistani authorities to abolish criminal penalties for defamation."
A court in Naoshehro Feroze, Sindh province, found Jokhio and Gadehi guilty of criminal defamation on January 9, and sentenced them the same day, according to court documents. As well as the five-year prison terms, the court fined Jokhio and Gadehi 50,000 Pakistani rupees (US$477) each.
The conviction relates to a series of articles published in Saahiti Awaz, and other outlets in early 2015, alleging that a property developer desecrated a graveyard, according to court documents and press reports.
Additional charges that Jokhio and Gadehi extorted money and threatened the developer with a pistol were dropped because of insufficient evidence, according to the January 9 court ruling. The journalists, who had been free on bail until the hearing, denied all the charges, according to the court documents.
Two editors at Saahiti Awaz--Athar Hussain Jokhio and Dargahi Memon--also face charges, but have absconded, according to the court documents. The case against the editors is pending until their arrest, according to the documents.
Jokhio and Gadehi are appealing the case, according to the advocacy group Pakistan Press Foundation. If the higher court agrees to hear the appeal, the reporters could be freed on bail.