New York, September 8, 2023—Pakistan authorities must cease harassing journalists Fayaz Zafar and Amjad Ali Sahaab and immediately and impartially investigate Zafar’s detention and allegations that he was abused by police, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On August 30, police arrested Zafar, a reporter for the U.S.-Congress-funded Pashto-language broadcaster Voice of America Deewa and Daily Mashriq newspaper, in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Swat District, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ.
Earlier that day, magistrate Irfan Ullah Khan ordered Zafar to be held in preventive detention for 30 days under the West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960. The order, which CPJ reviewed, accused him of using social media to spread “fake, offensive and hatred contents to defame and incite the public” against the government and law enforcement agencies.
Zafar said he was taken to Swat police chief Shafiullah Gandapur’s home, where six officers beat him for about 15 minutes with their guns and fists despite his telling them he had a heart condition. The journalist also said police brought his car to Gandapur’s home, damaged its doors and hood with their rifle butts, and held the vehicle until September 5. Zafar said Gandapur pressured him to sign an affidavit that he would stop his critical reporting about the police, but he refused and was taken to jail.
On August 31, Khan issued an order for Zafar to be released from jail, following requests from the District Bar Association and a local tribal assembly, and withdrew the previous day’s detention order. Interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi told CPJ that he asked local authorities to release the journalist and ordered the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to investigate the incident.
In the case of Sahaab, editor of the local Urdu newspaper Daily Azadi Swat and the online blog Lafzuna, police in Swat District’s Mingora city opened an investigation on August 31, accusing the journalist of inciting violence against state institutions via social media and posting criticism of the district administration, according to a report by Radio Mashaal and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ.
Sahaab told CPJ that a dozen police officers came to raid his home on August 31 but did not enter because his brother said the journalist was not there and women were inside. Sahaab said he approached a local court on September 1 and secured pre-arrest bail to protect himself from detention in relation to the case until the next hearing on September 9.
The police report, reviewed by CPJ, accused Sahaab of defamation and intentional insult with intent to breach the peace in violation of the penal code, and causing annoyance or intimidation in violation of the The Telegraph Act, 1885.
“Pakistani authorities must swiftly and transparently investigate the arrest of Fayaz Zafar and the abuse he allegedly endured at the hands of the police, and hold the perpetrators to account,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Beh Lih Yi. “Police must also drop their investigation into Amjad Ali Sahaab and allow both journalists to report on matters of public interest in Swat District without interference.”
Zafar told CPJ that he feared for his life after the detention and beatings and received medical treatment for the injuries caused to his head, back, shoulders, legs, and right hand.
The journalist said he believed that he was targeted for his recent reporting and commentary on social media, including a video, which he said showed a student being abducted near a police station, and photographs, which he said were of militants patrolling in Swat after attacking a police post.
Sahaab also told CPJ that he believed he was being investigated because of his critical work that he posts to social media, including Lafzuna’s YouTube discussions about the alleged failure of local authorities to stop rising militancy and arrests of activists, as well as blogs on insecurity.
Police chief Gandapur told CPJ via messaging app on September 1 that Zafar’s allegations of abuse were “fake” and that the journalist was directly taken to jail following his arrest.
Gandapur did not respond to CPJ’s follow up queries about the investigation into Sahaab. CPJ’s calls and messages to magistrate Khan requesting comment did not receive any replies.