Journalists Saeed Ali Achakzai (third from left) and Abdul Mateen Achakzai (fifth from left) are seen following their release from a Balochistan prison where they were held for two days without charge. (Photo: Habibullah Achakzai)

Pakistani journalists beaten, detained in Balochistan prison without charge for 2 days

On June 19, 2020, agents with the Pakistani Balochistan Levies force, a law enforcement agency under the direction of the Balochistan district administration, detained and beat Saeed Ali Achakzai, a reporter with the privately owned TV channel Samaa TV, and Abdul Mateen Achakzai, a reporter for privately owned broadcaster Khyber TV, according to both journalists, who spoke to CPJ in phone interviews, and news reports.

The journalists, who share a surname but are not related, had each aired reports on June 8, which CPJ reviewed, on alleged poor conditions in a COVID-19 quarantine center established in Chaman City for people entering Pakistan from Afghanistan, Abdul Mateen Achakzai told CPJ.

After those reports were broadcast, Abdul Mateen Achakzai said he received threatening phone calls from unknown people and from a security guard for Chaman Deputy Commissioner Qila Abdullah Bashir Ahmed Barich, who asked why he would publish a report that would give the deputy commissioner a bad name.

On June 19, Abdul Mateen Achakzai said he received a call from the Frontier Corps, a federal paramilitary force, asking him to come to their station “to clear up the matter.” He said Saeed Ali Achakzai accompanied him to the station.

When the journalists arrived at the station, Frontier Corps officers asked whether they supported the Pakistan Tahafuz Movement, a local social movement advocating for the rights of ethnic Pashtuns; when they said no, and said they were journalists, Saeed Ali Achakzai told CPJ that the officers started threatening them and beating them with their hands.

Saeed Ali Achakzai said the officers tied the journalists’ hands, blindfolded them, and forced them into a car.

He said the Frontier Corps officers then turned over both journalists to the Balochistan Levies force. The levies force officers put the journalists in a car and beat them with batons and cables, causing welts on their backs, the journalists told CPJ.

Balochistan Levies officers then detained the journalists at Macch prison, about 120 miles away from the Frontier Corps outpost, and released them on June 11 after protests by other Balochistan journalists, Abdul Mateen Achakzai told CPJ.

A formal police investigation has not been launched into the two journalists, Saeed Ali Achakzai said, but Deputy Commissioner Qila Abdullah Bashir Ahmed Barich registered their names on the Fourth Schedule, a list of individuals who are suspected of terrorism or sectarianism under the Anti-Terrorism Act, and accused them of violating Sections 3 and 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order law, pertaining to breach of peace, according to reports.

Individuals listed on the Fourth Schedule can be subjected to restrictions on travel, speech, and business activities, without being formally charged with a crime, according to reports.

Saeed Ali Achakzai said both journalists’ phones were seized and held for 10 days before they were returned.

In a WhatsApp message, Qila Abdullah Bashir Ahmed Barich denied to CPJ that the two were arrested for their journalism, and accused them of being involved in border smuggling and blackmailing authorities. Both journalists denied those accusations to CPJ.

The deputy commissioner said the news reports about the journalists’ case were “far from the truth” and said that authorities would investigate the journalists’ allegations of abuse in custody.

CPJ emailed the Balochistan Levies Force and Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior, which oversees the Frontier Corps, for comment, but did not receive any responses.