New York, July 17, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Pakistani authorities to allow journalists to carry out their work without fear of reprisal. Journalist Kadafi Zaman, a reporter for Norway’s TV 2, told CPJ he was arrested and beaten by police while covering a political rally on July 13 in Gujrat city, and detained until yesterday.
Zaman, who is a Norwegian citizen, and 38 others were arrested at a rally of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and all were charged with attempted murder and disruption of public order, according to Norway Today, an independent online newspaper. Zaman was released yesterday morning on bail of 100,000 rupees (US$820), according to TV 2. He still faces criminal charges including attempted murder, tearing a police uniform, snatching four mobile telephones from the police, and interference in government function, according to Dawn.
Zaman told CPJ he has been traveling and reporting from Pakistan for 17 years and had never experienced such violence.
“CPJ welcomes Kadafi Zaman’s release, but his arrest underscores the dangers journalists in Pakistan face covering political rallies,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, said in Washington, D.C. “Journalists should not be attacked or arrested while they are doing their job, and Pakistani authorities should immediately drop the charges against him.”
The PML-N is contesting the July 25 general elections even though its founder, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has been convicted on corruption charges, is barred from running, and is now in jail.
Zaman told CPJ he was covering a PML-N rally when it turned violent, with shots fired, tear gas, and police hitting people with batons. Zaman posted videos from the rally on Twitter showing confrontations between protesters and police. He told CPJ he was attacked by police with batons on his arms, ribs, and back, despite identifying himself as Norwegian press and showing his press card. He was chased by police and got into a car, he said. A video published by TV 2 shows Zaman and other people sitting in the car, and police hitting the car and the people in it with batons. The video shows the damage to the car, with a smashed front and side window.
According to Norway Today, the police report stated that shots were fired at the police, which led to the attempted murder charges, though the police report did not state the origin of the shots.
CPJ called the Gujrat Civil Lines police station, where Zaman was held for part of the weekend, but no one answered the phone. Asad Gujjar, a spokesperson for Gujrat police, told Dawn that if Zaman had introduced himself as a journalist, police would not have arrested him and that as a foreign journalist reporting in Pakistan, he should have gotten in touch with the police through his embassy.
CPJ has documented numerous attacks on journalists as the country prepares for the general elections, with some parts of the country unable to access Dawn newspaper and Geo TV.
CPJ recently released a safety advisory for journalists covering the election, and called on interim Prime Minister Nasir ul-Mulk to protect press freedom ahead of the elections.