Washington, D.C., December 31, 2019—Pakistani authorities should immediately release and drop all legal proceedings against journalist Nasrullah Chaudhry, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Chaudhry was convicted under anti-terrorism laws and sentenced to five years in prison on December 21 over the alleged possession of banned literature, according to news reports.
“The anti-terrorism charges against Nasrullah Chaudhry were always implausible and his conviction is an absurd miscarriage of justice,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Chaudhry should be freed at once, and no journalist should go to prison over possession of magazines or pamphlets.”
Chaudhry, a district news desk editor at the Urdu-language daily Nai Baat, was arrested on November 11, 2018, allegedly in possession of literature aimed at sowing sectarian discord in Pakistan. He was then freed on bail. Chaudhry, who has more than 20 years of experience as a journalist, denied the allegation during the trial, according to Dawn newspaper and a journalist who followed the trial closely, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. The court revealed Chaudhry’s conviction to him on December 26.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Karachi Union of Journalists issued a joint statement on December 30 expressing concern over Chaudhry’s conviction and noting that journalists had been “implicated in false and fabricated cases in the recent past by different state institutions in an attempt to stifle the freedom of expression.” The statement also noted that Chaudhry’s arrest followed a raid on the Karachi Press Club, for which authorities offered conflicting reasons, according to reports, prompting accusations that Chaudhry’s arrest was used to provide retroactive justification for the raid.
According to the journalist who spoke with CPJ, an appeal in Chaudhry’s case has been fast-tracked because of the strong local reaction to the conviction, with an initial hearing scheduled for tomorrow.
A spokesperson for the Sindh police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via a messaging app.