Pakistan charges two journalists under anti-terror law

Pakistani authorities charged two journalists with publishing and distributing anti-state material on September 20, 2016, according to a member of a local nongovernmental organization who is familiar with the case but did not want to be named for fear of retribution. Authorities in the northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region arrested Daulat Jan Mathal, the editor-in-chief of three local news outlets, on October 24, 2016, according to the NGO worker. Sher Nadir Shahi, a writer and editor for several regional publications, including one of Mathal’s, told CPJ he went into hiding to avoid arrest.

The journalists, and two political activists facing charges in the same case, are accused of publishing and distributing anti-state material in support of a local nationalist party, the Balawaristan National Front, with intent to “damage the solidarity and integrity of Pakistan,” according to a police document seen by CPJ.

In the First Information Report, a police document filed at the start of an investigation in Pakistan, authorities said that the monthly magazine, Balawaristan Times, where Shahi was an editor, republished banned books. Mathal was also arrested because of his work as the chief editor for a newspaper that supported national autonomy in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, according to the NGO worker.

An Islamabad court granted Mathal bail in early October 2017, according to court documents. Later that month, an anti-terrorism court revoked the bail, and authorities arrested Mathal, according to the NGO worker and Shahi. The journalist’s legal counsel has filed another petition for bail, Shahi said.

Mathal is currently in state custody at the Gilgit district jail, according to the NGO worker.

Prior to his arrest, Mathal was editor-in-chief and publisher of newspapers, the Daily Bang-e-Sahar and Baang, and the news website, Broshal Times, all of which covered politics in Gilgit-Baltistan, according to the NGO worker and Shahi.

Mathal halted publication of the Daily Bang-e-Sahar, Baang, and the Broshal Times five months before his arrest amid increased pressure from the local government and accusations the papers were supporting nationalism in Gilgit Baltistan, the NGO worker told CPJ.

Gilgit-Baltistan is under the jurisdiction of Pakistan’s army and borders Kashmir, a region that both India and Pakistan claim.

Regional court officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CPJ that was sent via email.

In an interview with local media before his arrest, Mathal said he had not done anything wrong, and that he would fight for the truth and seek justice. Shahi, a staff writer at the Daily Baang-e-Sahar, and an editor at the Balawaristan Times and Kargil International, denied any wrongdoing, during an August 2017 interview with CPJ.

Shahi told CPJ in August 2017 that he went into hiding after authorities published the first information report and a few days before Mathal’s arrest. He said that he feared being questioned and tortured in detention.

Authorities have not set a trial date for either of the two journalists, according to Shahi.

Pakistan’s authorities have used the Anti-Terrorism Act to quell dissent in the past, though recently the country’s Supreme Court has issued a warning to lower courts to apply the act less frequently, according to the newspaper Dawn.