Pakistani authorities jail journalist following reports on land disputes

New York, November 15, 2017–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Pakistani
authorities to release local journalist Hafiz Husnain Raza and drop all charges against him.

Punjab province police arrested Husnain Raza on April 25, 2016. Authorities charged him with disturbing public peace and tranquility and instigating people to terrorism under Section 7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terror Act, the journalist’s lawyer, Farooq Bajwa, told CPJ.

A Lahore court granted Husnain Raza bail on September 12, 2017, according to Bajwa. Before the journalist was released, Okara police then filed additional charges against him, the lawyer said.

Authorities have been holding the journalist in Central Jail Sahiwal, which is located in the city of Sahiwal in Pakistan’s Punjab province, Bajwa said.

A regional court tomorrow will hold another bail hearing in the case, Bajwa said.

Husnain Raza was working as the Okara correspondent for Nawa-i-Waqt, one of Pakistan’s leading Urdu newspapers which leans conservative, and frequently reported on regional land rights issues before his arrest, Amal Khan, features editor at The Nation English-language daily newspaper, who has been investigating the case, told CPJ.

There has been a land rights dispute in Okara for decades between the Anjuman Muzaareen, a tenants association in Punjab, and the military, according to Bajwa.

Khan told CPJ that the Okara land rights topic is “completely taboo” because it involves the military.

Husnain Raza was a vocal proponent for the rights of the Punjab tenants group in the press, and as a result he made enemies in the army, she said.

“Hafiz Husnain Raza has been unjustly imprisoned for more than a year and a half in Pakistan, and we call on authorities to drop the charges against him,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Local authorities should not be able to imprison journalists just because they report on sensitive topics.”

Bajwa told CPJ that the charges against Husnain are retaliation for his reporting in the Okara district in Punjab, Pakistan. The Nation has also reported that the charges against Husnain are “fake.”

The District Police Officer did not answer CPJ’s repeated requests for comment.

Husnain Raza was asked to withdraw his support and reporting on the Anjuman Muzareen, but he refused to give an apology, she said. Due to the sensitivity and fear surrounding the topic, for the first three months of Husnain Raza’s imprisonment, there were no news reports about his detention, she said.

Journalists in Punjab province are vulnerable to many pressures — feudal, police, and military, Iqbal Khattak, director of local press freedom group Freedom Network Pakistan, said. Authorities want to make Husnain Raza’s case symbolic for other journalists in the region, a lesson to others to not report on the topic, Khattak said.