Over 200 Afghan journalists in Pakistan face deportation amid crackdown on illegal immigrants

Afghan people wait behind a fenced corridor before crossing into Pakistan at the zero point Torkham border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Nangarhar province on February 25, 2023. (AFP/File)
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Updated 10 October 2023
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Over 200 Afghan journalists in Pakistan face deportation amid crackdown on illegal immigrants

  • Afghan journalists urge Pakistani authorities to extend legal stay in the country until they are resettled to other countries
  • Pakistani federation of journalists says lives of Afghan journalists deported would be under threat in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: With over 200 Afghan journalists and their families facing deportation from Pakistan, a federation of Afghan journalists on Tuesday urged the Pakistani government to reconsider its decision to expel them from the country.

According to data by the Pakistan-Afghan International Forum of Journalists, at least 650 media workers fled to Pakistan fearing persecution at the hands of the Taliban after the group took over Kabul in August 2021. About 400 journalists have made it to different countries, including the US, Germany and France, but the rest have been stuck as their travel documents have expired.

Pakistan's caretaker interior minister announced last Tuesday the government would deport illegal immigrants in the country from Nov. 1. While Pakistan says the operation would not be restricted to people of any particular nationality, the move is likely to impact Afghan nationals in Pakistan the most.

“The majority of Afghan journalists entered Pakistan legally but Pakistani authorities are not extending our visas now,” Hashmat Vejdani, spokesperson of the Federation of Afghan Journalists in Exile, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“Those who entered Pakistan illegally to escape Taliban persecution have also applied for visas but the government was not entertaining their applications.”

At least 600,000 Afghans fled to neighboring Pakistan after the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan in August 2021, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Even before then, Pakistan hosted some 1.5 million registered refugees, one of the largest such populations in the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Over a million others are estimated to live in Pakistan unregistered.

Afghan journalists in Pakistan are anxiously waiting for visas from countries that previously employed them and have often complained that Pakistani police detain or threaten to arrest them for bribes, a charge police officials deny.

For over 200 Afghan journalists in Pakistan, the clock is ticking as their travel documents are expiring.

"Cases of the majority of Afghan journalists staying in Pakistan are under process for resettlement in European countries, therefore Pakistani government should reconsider its decision,” Vejdani said.

He voiced fears that Afghan journalists deported to Afghanistan would either be jailed or killed by the Taliban.

“The media in Afghanistan is in total control of the Taliban," he said. "We have worked for Western news organizations during the war so the Taliban consider us their staunch enemies."

Vejdani said Afghan journalists are ready to cooperate with the Pakistani government and called upon authorities to extend their visas till their resettlement applications are not finalized.

He said Afghan journalists and their families in Pakistan were registered with the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP), a Pakistani NGO that is an implementing partner of the UNHCR.

“Our deportation would clearly mean throwing us to the Taliban for murder," Vejdani said. "Pakistan should heed our requests for a safe and legal stay here."

Pakistan’s interior ministry did not respond to calls and messages seeking their version for this story.

Separately, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Tuesday urged Pakistan's government to reconsider its decision and called on media stakeholders, civil society organizations, and international governments to increase their support for Afghan journalists in exile.

“At least 200 Afghan journalists are currently refugees in Pakistan, forced to flee the Taliban’s crackdown on press freedom, including draconian restrictions on women journalists, shuttering of media houses, and rampant censorship,” the IFJ said in a statement.

In August, the IFJ and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) established two solidarity centers in Islamabad to aid Afghan journalists that provided emergency housing, legal and psychological support. One of the two centers is exclusively for women journalists.

“We have the data of 256 Afghan journalists in Pakistan, and we have been in touch with the government to chalk out a way for their stay in the country,” PFUJ President Afzal Butt told Arab News.

“We know the lives of these journalists would be in danger if deported to Afghanistan, therefore we have been trying our best for their legal stay in Pakistan until their resettlement to third countries,” Butt added.


International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

Updated 23 February 2024
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International drivers from Saudi Arabia, Iran, US, rev up for Pakistan Cholistan Desert Rally

  • The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week
  • Over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan and abroad are participating this year

ISLAMABAD: The annual 19th Cholistan Desert Jeep Rally started in Bahawalpur this week, with over 150 racing enthusiasts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries participating.

The Cholistan Desert in southern Punjab forms part of the Greater Thar Desert, which extends to Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and the Indian state of Rajasthan. Cholistan was once a center for caravan trade, leading to the construction of numerous forts in the medieval period to protect trade routes, of which the Derawar Fort in Bahawalpur is the best-preserved example.

The 19th edition of the desert rally, which spreads over 500 kilometers, started on Tuesday. Drivers from Saudi Arabia, the UK, Afghanistan, Iran, and the US are participating this year, Managing Director of Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) Humaira Akram told state-run APP.

“The women’s category has been made more active,” the official said. “The event will highlight the history and culture of the Cholistan Desert, the historical palaces of Bahawalpur, historical buildings, historical backgrounds, tourism, and culture through beautiful cultural dances in addition to light and sound shows.”

A qualifying round was held in Cholistan on February 22, followed by the first round of prepared cars on February 23, and a stock category race along with a dirt bike race on February 24, followed by a cultural show.

“On February 25, the prepared category race and truck race will take place, followed by the prize distribution ceremony,” Additional Deputy Commissioner Headquarters Sumera Rabani told media. 

“The Cholistan Fort will be adorned with beautiful decorations during the Cholistan Rally. The Sports Department will organize competitions including Kabaddi, traditional wrestling, volleyball, and tug of war.”


Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistan Supreme Court defends ruling on minorities after backlash

  • Ruling by chief justice related to blasphemy has sparked online backlash, led to thinly veiled death threats
  • CJ Qazi Faez Isa ordered the release of a man from Ahmadi sect, considered heretical by Muslim scholars

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has defended its top judge after a ruling he issued related to blasphemy that sparked an online backlash and led to thinly veiled death threats.

The campaign targeting Supreme Court Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa began after he ordered the release of a man from the Ahmadi religious sect, considered heretical by hard-line Muslim scholars.

The man had been accused of disseminating a forbidden Ahmadi text, which firebrand clerics consider tantamount to blasphemy, a hot-button issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan where even unproven allegations of offending Islam have sparked violence.

The Supreme Court issued a statement on Thursday evening defending the ruling, denying that it went against the Islamic constitution.

“This impression is absolutely wrong,” it said. “The organized campaign against judiciary and judges is unfortunate.”

Isa’s ruling first went unnoticed two weeks ago, before it was highlighted by social media accounts linked to the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party which has been behind violent anti-blasphemy protests.

The Pakistani chapter of the Taliban militant group — known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — called Isa “an enemy of Islam” and “a damned man.”

Ahmadis have been discriminated against and persecuted for decades in Pakistan. The second amendment of Pakistan’s constitution, made in 1974, declares Ahmadis non-Muslims. The law also prohibits them from professing to be Muslims or spreading their faith, and allows the death penalty for those found guilty of insulting Islam.

In his judgment, Isa ruled that according to the constituion, “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion.”

“Freedom of faith is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam. But sadly, in matters of religion, tempers flare up and the Qur’anic mandate is forsaken,” he added.

He also said the book allegedly disseminated by the accused had not been outlawed at the time of the alleged crime in 2019.

Cleric Fazlur Rehman, the influential leader of the conservative religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said Isa’s reasoning was “false and based on bad intentions.”

In 2011, the governor of eastern Punjab province was killed by his own bodyguard after calling for reforms to the stringent blasphemy laws.


Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistani students show solidarity with Gazan children with exhibition of paintings and poems 

  • Event organized by Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad with over 120 children participating 
  • Foreign diplomats, academics and dignitaries appreciate Pakistani students for taking a stand 

ISLAMABAD: Diplomats and envoys from various countries on Thursday condemned Israel for its “blatant and bold” war against Palestinians, as they attended an exhibition of poems and paintings by Pakistani students in support of children in Gaza.

The Institute of Strategic Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, organized the event in which over 120 children aged between 5-12 from five schools in Islamabad took part. 

Almost 30,000 people have been killed in Palestine since Israel launched an aerial bombing and ground offensive campaign after Oct. 7 following a Hamas attack on Israel. About 70 percent of those who have been killed are women, 7,900, and children, 12,450. The head of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) told the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that medical teams in the Gaza Strip have come up with a new acronym, WCNSF, wounded child, no surviving family.

Despite calls from foreign governments and peace activists worldwide, Israel has vowed not to stop its bombing of the densely populated territory until it destroys the Palestinian group Hamas.

“This message given by Pakistani children should show the world that no one will forget Gaza and will not accept their dual standards,” Brian Witbooi, a counselor at the South African High Commission in Pakistan, told Arab News.

“The atrocities in Gaza are blatant and bold and for the entire world to see,“

Palestine’s ambassador to Pakistan, Ahmed Jawad A.A. Rabei, said the message of support from Pakistani children to the Palestinian people “means a lot to them.”

“They [Pakistani children] draw and write many important things that came from the heart, conveying that you [Palestinians] are not alone, we stand with you, and, God willing, we will witness your freedom,” he told Arab News. 

“I am very proud to see the hope for Palestinians, its children, students here [in Pakistan], and I am very proud of you in what you drew and wrote for children in Gaza.”

Ambassador of Morocco to Pakistan, Mohamed Karmoune, said Pakistanis’ support for Palestinians transcended generations.

“They [Pakistani children] are the future of the Muslim world and their support means a lot for the Palestinian children who are suffering inhuman violence,” he told Arab News.

 Zainab Mohmand, a grade five student, said she had written a poem for children in Gaza, who were on the brink of starvation. 

“The children of Gaza are living in such a hard situation,” she said. “They don’t have enough water to drink, they don’t have enough food. So, I wrote about this so that they can somehow get out of this situation.”


Indictment of Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, in land bribe case on Feb. 27 — party 

Updated 23 February 2024
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Indictment of Bushra Bibi, wife of Pakistan’s Imran Khan, in land bribe case on Feb. 27 — party 

  • Khan and his wife are accused of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018
  • Bushra is already convicted in two other cases involving illegal sale of staff gifts and non-Islamic nikkah to Khan

ISLAMABAD: Bushra Bibi, the wife of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan, was brought to a prison in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Friday for a hearing in a land graft case, with the ex-premier’s party saying indictment would take place on Feb. 27. 

Bushra has been living under house arrest at her husband’s sprawling Bani Gala mansion, declared a sub-jail, in Islamabad since Jan. 31 when both were sentenced to 14 years in prison in a case that relates to accusations they undervalued gifts from a state repository and gained profits from selling them while Khan was prime minister from 2018-22. 

Earlier this month, Khan and his wife are also sentenced to seven years on charges they violated the country’s marriage law when they wed in 2018 — the fourth sentence so far for Khan and the second for his wife.

“Former first lady Bushra Bibi has been brought to Adiala Prison from Bani Gala sub prison for 190 million case trial,” the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said in a message to reporters, referring to the Al Qadir Trust case. 

While the party said on Friday morning that indictment was “very much on the cards today,” it told media in the afternoon that it would take place on Feb. 27. 

The former premier and his wife are accused in the case of receiving land as a bribe through the Al Qadir charitable trust set up in 2018 when Khan was still in office. Pakistani authorities have accused Khan and his wife of receiving the land, worth up to 7 billion rupees ($25 million), from a property developer charged in Britain with money laundering. The bribe, authorities say, was in exchange for a favor to the property developer by using 190 million pounds repatriated by Britain in the money laundering probe to pay fines levied by a court against the developer.

Khan’s aides say the land was donated to the trust for charitable purposes. The real estate developer has also denied any wrongdoing.

“OTHER CASES”

Khan and most senior leaders of his party were rejected as candidates for Feb. 8 general elections in what they say was a state-backed campaign to thwart their participation. Khan, 71, was ousted in April 2022 after falling out with Pakistan’s powerful military leaders who are widely believed to have backed him into power in 2018. In opposition, he waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military establishment which has directly ruled the nation for almost half of its history but says it no longer interferes in politics. 

Khan was also convicted last month for making public a classified cable sent to Islamabad by Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington in 2022, in what is commonly known as the Cipher case. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He denies the charge and has said the contents appeared in the media from other sources.

In August last year, he was convicted in the Toshakhana or state treasury case and handed a three-year prison sentence by the election commission for selling gifts worth more than 140 million rupees ($501,000) in state possession and received during his 2018-2022 premiership.

He has also been indicted under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism law in connection with violence against the military that erupted following his brief arrest related to the Al-Qadir case on May 9. A section of Pakistan’s 1997 anti-terrorism act prescribes the death penalty as maximum punishment. Khan has denied the charges under the anti-terrorism law, saying he was in detention when the violence took place.


Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 

Updated 23 February 2024
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Pakistani anchorman, recently released after four-month custody, rearrested over ‘anti-judiciary’ campaign 

  • Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his home in Lahore, his brother confirmed on X
  • The prominent journalist was last picked up in May and returned home in September

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani anchorman Imran Riaz Khan was arrested from his house in Lahore, his brother said on Friday, less than five months after the journalist returned home after a nearly four-month long incarceration in which his whereabouts had been unknown.

The prominent TV journalist turned promoter of jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political party was picked up from his home in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore late on Thursday night. Footage of police vans outside his house were widely shared on social media. 

Riaz, who has more than 5.5 million followers on X, had taken on the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies after ex-PM Khan was removed from power in April 2022 and blamed the army for his ouster. He was picked up in May and returned home in September, with authorities giving no indication of where he had been.

“They have picked up my brother, it’s been seven hours,” Riaz’s brother Usman Riaz Khan, who is also a journalist, said on X early on Friday morning. “A cloth was placed over his head and he was dragged away.”

He said he hoped Riaz would be presented before a court and due process followed. 

Earlier this week, the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cybercrime Wing had summoned Riaz over his alleged involvement in an anti-judiciary campaign on social media platforms. The issue revolves around a controversial judgment given by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa that many political and religious leaders have viewed as insulting to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and blasphemous. 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, for which there is widespread acceptance, are often misused against Pakistan’s tiny minority religious groups and even sometimes against Muslims to settle personal scores, critics say. Although no one has ever been executed, blasphemy convictions are common in Pakistan. Most convictions are thrown out on appeal by higher courts, but mobs have lynched dozens of people in vigilante attacks even before a case is put on trial.

In an X post on Thursday following the FIA summons, Riaz’s lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq said his client had responded to the agency’s notice. 

“Such notices have come to dozens of journalists across Pakistan and after answering the first notice, Imran Riaz Khan has also answered this second notice,” the lawyer said. 

“More than two dozen such cases have been dismissed, this one will also be dismissed.”

Human rights groups have widely accused Pakistani security agencies of being behind the disappearances of political workers, leaders and rights activists, allegations that authorities deny.