WASHINGTON: Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday demanded that Pakistani prosecutors dismiss accusations against two journalists that could theoretically carry the death penalty, adding to US criticism of a crackdown.
Two prominent Pakistani journalists living in the United States, Wajahat Khan and Shaheen Sehbai, were charged over nationwide protests that swept Pakistan on May 9 after the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan.
A complaint accuses the two of a conspiracy against the military and in support of terrorism, saying that protesters were looking at the social media accounts of the two journalists and of two former officers who are critical of the army.
“Make no mistake — the sole purpose of this ludicrous complaint, which arbitrarily associates the names of Wajahat Khan and Shaheen Sehbai with those of rebel ex-army officers, is to intimidate the two journalists into silence,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.
“In view of the absurdity of the supposed incriminating evidence, we call on the Islamabad prosecutor’s office to dismiss this complaint, which should never have been received.”
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller earlier voiced alarm over Pakistan conducting military trials over involvement in the May 9 protests.
The United States will “urge Pakistani authorities to respect democratic principles and the rule of law for all people as enshrined in the country’s constitution,” Miller said.
Wajahat Khan, a well-known freelance journalist, said that he has received threats to his mother in Pakistan.
“It was from a very highly placed official. I’m not taking that lightly,” he told AFP.
In a statement, Khan called the suggestions that his social media content triggered violence and terrorism “shocking, baseless, and absurd.”
“I am a proud citizen of Pakistan. Perhaps one of the proudest,” he said.
“I’ve dedicated my career reporting from Pakistan’s frontlines, deployed with the same military that these charges falsely claim I’m trying to divide.”
Sehbai, the former editor of The News, said that Pakistanis had turned to social media due to a clampdown on traditional press and that authorities were trying to clamp down on voices from abroad.
Imran Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary vote and is looking for a political comeback, was locked up for three days as prosecutors accused him of corruption.