A Pakistani 'sword of Damocles' in the making?

By Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator on April 2, 2012 4:45 PM ET

Given that it is usually punishable by death, "treason" is a dangerous word to bandy about. When it is applied to journalists, it is even more worrisome. We've seen that in Sri Lanka, which is in the throes of a backlash against a U.N. resolution on past human rights abuses. (See "Amid Sri Lankan denial, threats rise for journalists.") Photographs of journalists who have been critical of Colombo, their faces barely obscured, have been shown on television; one broadcast even repeatedly used the picture of a journalist's daughter, according to the Network for Rights media support group. 

Now, in Pakistan, Zaid Hamid has filed a petition in the Supreme Court, calling on it to try several journalists, a leading human rights activist, the South Asian Free Media Association, and several of its members (many of whom are journalists as well), as well as several government ministries and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, for treason.  That is a strange group of bedfellows indeed.

In the petition, Hamid describes himself as "Founding President of an Internationally Recognized Threat Analysis Consultancy and Defense Think Tank, Brass Tacks." That website--basically a homepage and some YouTube links--describes Hamid as "the most eminent and profound security professional in Pakistan having extensive practical experience and exposure in the fields of Information Warfare and Psy-Ops, National as well as Corporate Security Management, Strategic and Tactical planning, Threat Analysis, Irregular Warfare, Electronic Security Solutions and training of security personnel. His expertise is largely through exposure and is most unique and diversified. He is a veteran of Soviet-Afghan war and has a rich experience of the finest guerilla operations in modern times." He is a regular on many of Pakistani TV's political talk shows, and has hosted his own. 

Why do this? Hamid explains on his blog:

In these times of war, when journalism become subversion on behalf of hostile powers, then it is called High Treason! Information war and ideological subversion are integral part of the 4th generation war being waged against Pakistan. The terrorists on ground get support from the subversive elements within the media and they all create crisis for the armed forces, ISI and the nation instead of supporting them against the insurgents and terrorists.

While some of the people named on the petition dismissed the move as that of a "nutcase" or worse, others feel genuinely threatened by it. Bringing the case and the publicity it could engender puts people at risk, regardless of its legal validity. Treason is a hot-button issue like blasphemy, and cases of treason could incite extrajudicial reprisals, just as we've seen in some blasphemy cases.

The language of the petition is inflammatory and aimed at inciting a public response. As a Washington-based analyst, Sadanand Dhume, tweeted: "If calling journalists snakes and publicly demanding their execution for treason isn't incitement to violence, then what is?"

The Court hasn't accepted the petition yet, but it is under no obligation to reject it. As one journalist told me, it can just hang there indefinitely, as a "sword of Damocles" dropping into use if it becomes politically expedient to silence journalists or any critic of the government. The case, as bizarre as it is, is really just another way to intimidate journalists -- as if there wasn't a dark cloud of threats hanging over the profession in Pakistan already

EDITOR'S NOTE: The text of this post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Zaid Hamid's name.


Hi Bob...it was nice meeting u in NY last year...The man you've mentioned is Zaid Hamid not Zahid Hamid...regards

Manzoor Chandio April 2, 2012 5:33:15 PM ET

Zaid Hamid is a puppet of ISI (Inter Services Intelligence)...he is supported by the pakistani army. I request all the tv channels to Ban him on all channels and should stop inviting him as a guest on their Current Affairs Talk Shows!

All readers of the CPJ website should also read this Adeeb Media Editorial which exposes the truth about SAFMA and FMF:

Pro-PPP SAFMA/FMF Members have Zero or No Credibility

By Journalist SYED ADEEB


ADEEB MEDIA - www.AdeebMedia.com - Virginia, USA

Sure, easier to rant about it from outside, but then again Mr Bob is not the only one, just another "expert, know it all" of the subcontinent. As far as Zaid Hamid is concerned, very profound critique about his website, what did you expect to find there cookies?! Instead of finding something to refute any of his analysis which have been consistent and accurate, just like many others like yourself, you went with cheap shots on his website and his title. He is regularly interviewed by some of the most watched largest news channels RT and presstv to name a couple. The guy is also on the list of 500 most influential Muslims in the world. His past experience speaks for itself. But hey, never mind that, let's whine about his website. We've seen journalists openly lying, with evidences of receiving funds from entities abroad to say the least, after all that treachery that drags Pakistan into chaos, SAFMA co founder went live on TV to refute the very constitution of Pakistan and the list goes on. As usual, all of that does not matter, because you play your part of misleading, dirty journalism. If journalists have fallen to a level below the corrupt politicians, they deserve to be treated accordingly. There are honest and mature journalists out there as well you know.

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