New York, June 6, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the abduction of journalist Gul Bukhari and the attack against journalist Asad Kharal in Lahore, Pakistan, yesterday and urged Pakistani authorities to promptly investigate the incidents and prosecute the perpetrators.
“These shocking attacks against journalists show a blatant disregard for freedom of expression and journalist safety in Pakistan and are especially dangerous as the country prepares to hold elections,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, from Washington, D.C. “If the media cannot do its job without facing severe intimidation, results of the election will always be open to question, undermining the legitimacy and effectiveness of the new government.”
Bukhari, a senior journalist known for her outspoken criticism of the military, was abducted by unidentified men on Tuesday night as she was on her way to record a television program for Waqt News, her colleague Muhammad Gulsher told CPJ. As news of her abduction spread, there was a strong outcry on social media.
Bukhari was in a press car on her way to the station when her vehicle was intercepted by several cars not far from her home in an army cantonment area, Gulsher said. The driver was forced out of the vehicle, beaten, and told to run away, while the men put a mask on Bukhari and dragged her off, Gulsher said. He gave these details based on the account of the driver, who went to the TV station after the incident. The men who stopped the car were in plainclothes, while some other men were in army uniforms, according to news reports. A few hours later, Bukhari was released, Issam Ahmed, her nephew, confirmed to CPJ.
Bukhari later tweeted confirming that she was well and requesting privacy.
On the same night, BOL TV broadcast journalist Kharal’s car was intercepted by masked men near Lahore airport, and he was taken out of the car and beaten. Photographs show several injuries to Kharal’s head and bloodied clothes. He was taken to Lahore Services Hospital for medical treatment, according to the Express Tribune. Kharal has been critical of the former ruling party and has reported on corruption, according to news reports. The chief justice of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar, called on police to submit a report on the attack within 24 hours, according to news reports.
The attacks on the journalists came a day after the spokesperson for Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies accused journalists of sharing anti-state remarks on social media and said the Inter-Services Intelligence was monitoring such accounts and those that engage with them, CPJ documented. 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.