Police are seen in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 2, 2021. Journalists Ayaz Amir and Ahmer Shaheen were recently attacked in Lahore. (AFP/Arif Ali)

Pakistani journalists Ayaz Amir and Ahmer Shaheen attacked in separate incidents in Lahore

New York, July 7, 2022 – Pakistan authorities must immediately investigate the attacks against journalists Ayaz Amir and Ahmer Shaheen, ensure their safety, and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Unidentified men separately attacked Shaheen, chief editor of the news website iNEWS, on June 30 and beat Amir, a senior analyst with the privately owned broadcaster Dunya News, on July 1, according to news reports, both journalists, who spoke to CPJ in phone interviews, and a statement by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, which CPJ reviewed.

Both attacks occurred in the Punjab provincial capital of Lahore, and police have opened investigations into the incidents but have not announced any progress, Shaheen and Amir said.

“The attacks against journalists Ayaz Amir and Ahmer Shaheen underscore the significant dangers facing members of the press in Pakistan, which must be urgently addressed by the country’s new government,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “Pakistan authorities must spare no effort in investigating the attacks against Amir and Shaheen, ensuring the safety, and holding the perpetrators accountable.”

At about 11:45 p.m. on June 30, Shaheen was driving in the Sui Gas area of Lahore when two men on a motorbike approached his car and one pointed a gun at him and ordered him to stop, he said. He pulled over and one of the men ordered him to hand over his phone and laptop; he hid his phone under his seat, but the other man smashed his backseat window and stole his computer, he said.

Shaheen said he thought the men were attempting to mug him and offered his wallet, but they refused to take it.

One of the men then grabbed Shaheen and repeatedly banged his head against the car window, resulting in heavy bleeding, and fired several gunshots in the journalist’s direction, which hit his car, he said. One man then fled the scene on the motorbike and the other fled on foot, Shaheen told CPJ.

Shaheen repeatedly called the police to report the attack; police operators said officers were on their way, but the journalist waited for two hours and they never arrived, he told CPJ. While he was driving home, he found a police officer and gave a statement, but Shaheen told CPJ that the officer miswrote several details about the case and failed to write down others, including that Shaheen had been injured.

The officer initially forged the journalist’s signature on the statement, Shaheen said, adding that he then inserted a number of corrections to the statement and signed it.

Shaheen told CPJ that he did not immediately seek medical attention for his head injury because he feared the men may still be pursuing him.

The journalist told CPJ that, because the attackers took his laptop but not his wallet, he thought the attack was likely retaliation for his journalism. He said he did not know what reporting may have sparked the attack.

Two days before the attack, Shaheen alleged in a video for iNEWS that a high-ranking leader of the country’s legislative opposition had engaged in corruption. Shaheen has previously commented on political crises in Pakistan.

In a police report dated July 1, which CPJ reviewed, officers at the Raiwind police station in Lahore said they had opened an investigation into Shaheen’s case for robbery, but not assault.  Shaheen said that his family’s requests to police for an update on the investigation did not receive any responses.

Separately, on the evening of July 1, unidentified individuals assaulted Amir in Lahore, according to the journalist, news reports, and statement by the Pakistan Press Foundation.

The journalist was leaving the Dunya News office when a vehicle intercepted his car and blocked it from moving; a group of men then dragged Amir out of the vehicle, beat him, tore his clothes, and fled with his mobile phone and wallet as bystanders came to the scene, according to those sources.

Amir told CPJ that he sustained bruising on his face from the incident.

One day before the attack, Amir delivered a speech at a seminar, which was attended by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in which the journalist alleged that Khan had “handed over the country to property dealers,” and criticized the military’s role in the country’s political affairs.

On July 2, the Qila Gujjar Singh police station in Lahore registered a first information report against the unidentified assailants, thereby opening an investigation, according to the journalist, a report by his outlet, and a copy of that first information report. The journalist told CPJ that police have not provided any update on the investigation.

Bilal Kamyana, the highest-ranking officer in Lahore’s metropolitan police force, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app on Shaheen and Amir’s cases.

Sarfraz Hussain, press counselor of the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C., did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment on both cases. Ambreen Jan, director general of the external publicity wing of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app on both cases.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed to correct the spelling of Ahmer Shaheen’s name.]