New York, June 5, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned comments from Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson for Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies, who accused journalists of sharing anti-state remarks on social media.
At a press conference yesterday, Ghafoor derided the rise of social media troll accounts, which he said spread propaganda against the army and state, and said that Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was monitoring such accounts and those that engage with them, including journalists.
During his presentation, Ghafoor showed a graphic featuring an alleged troll account’s Twitter activity and the journalists and other individuals allegedly connected to the account, who, Ghafoor said, redistributed anti-state and anti-army propaganda from the troll’s account.
The journalists featured on the graphic include Ammar Masood and Fakhar Durrani, both with media Jang Media Group, Umar Cheema from the Jang-owned daily The News, Azaz Syed from the Jang-owned broadcaster Geo TV, and Matiullah Jan with the broadcaster Waqt News. Cheema received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2011.
“Displaying photos of journalists alleged to help push anti-state propaganda in Pakistan is tantamount to putting a giant target on their backs,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. “General Ghafoor should apologize for his comments and explain how security forces might help promote journalist safety in Pakistan, where reporters and editors are routinely threatened, attacked, and killed for their work.”
Pakistani authorities have cracked down on press freedom ahead of national parliamentary elections scheduled for July 25. Recently, CPJ documented disruptions to the distribution of Dawn newspaper and access to television channel Geo TV.