New York, January 17, 2023 – Pakistan authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Shahid Aslam and allow the media to freely and independently report on military officials, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On January 13, Federal Investigation Agency officers in Lahore arrested Aslam, a special correspondent for the privately owned broadcaster BOL News, according to news reports and a statement by the Pakistan Press Foundation, a local press freedom group.
Authorities accused Aslam of involvement in a November 19, 2022, article in the independent news website FactFocus that used leaked tax data to report on the assets of former Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family, those sources said. FactFocus correspondent Ahmad Noorani told CPJ via messaging app Aslam was not involved in that article.
On Monday, an Islamabad court ordered Aslam to be transferred to jail while he awaits trial, according to Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema, who is familiar with the case and spoke with CPJ via messaging app. CPJ was unable to determine what charges have been filed against Aslam.
“The arrest of reporter Shahid Aslam underscores the dangerous environment for journalists in Pakistan,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Aslam and respect his right to privacy and the confidentiality of his sources as guaranteed under the country’s journalist safety law.”
During his detention, FIA officers pressured Aslam to disclose the password to his laptop, which he refused, according to those news reports and the Pakistan Press Foundation’s statement.
The country’s Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021, includes provisions that protect journalists’ right to privacy and the confidentiality of their sources.
CPJ emailed the Federal Investigation Agency for comment, but did not receive any response. CPJ was unable to immediately find contact information for Bajwa.
CPJ has repeatedly documented attacks on Pakistani journalists who have critically covered the country’s military.
[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its third paragraph to correct Noorani’s title.]