Washington, D.C., December 26, 2019—Police in Sukkur, a city in Pakistan’s Sindh province, should immediately release Ajeeb Lakho and ensure his safety, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police arrested Lakho, a reporter for the Urdu-language newspaper, Daily Jurat, on December 24 on charges that included the attempted murder of a police officer, according to a local journalist, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, and the local journalist association, Sindh Journalist Council. A First Information Report, seen by CPJ and which marks the start of a criminal investigation in Pakistan, has been filed. The local journalist said that Lakho was arrested after he published a story alleging that police were accepting bribes from oil smugglers.
A December 25 letter that the Sindh Journalist Council sent to Syed Murad Ali Shah, the Chief Minister of Sindh and chairman of the provincial public safety and police complaints commission, alleged that Lakho was tortured in custody to force him to withdraw his allegations against the police. The letter, reviewed by CPJ, did not specify further details. CPJ could not independently confirm the allegation of abuse.
A spokesperson for the Sindh police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent today via messaging app.
“The arrest and alleged abuse by police of a journalist to try to force him to retract reporting is deeply troubling and should have no place in Pakistan, or anywhere else,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler. “Sukkur authorities should ensure the safe and unconditional release of Ajeeb Lakho.”
Lakho has faced legal action previously for his reporting on alleged corruption. He is one of approximately 50 journalists who have had over 30 cases filed against them in Sindh Province since May, according to news reports. Sixteen cases have been filed against Lakho alone, The Express Tribune reported on December 21. The cases accuse the journalists of kidnapping or extortion under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, according to reports.
Journalists have protested what they say are false charges for months. Some of the demonstrations have been broken up violently by police, according to video reviewed by CPJ.