South Asia

Questions over fate of missing Pakistani journalist remain despite court hearing

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) this week called on the Pakistan government to immediately reveal where and in what condition TV news anchor Imran Riaz Khan is being held.

Khan, known popularly as Imran Riaz, has been missing since his arrest on May 11 by airport police at the Sialkot international airport in Punjab province.

RSF stated that police originally claimed he had been released the same night but now acknowledge he was taken away in a police van after his “release” by police.

Journalists and media watchdog organizations have said they fear for Imran Riaz’s life.

The latest admission by police came out during a hearing on Monday before the high court in Lahore, Punjab’s capital, at which the police had previously been ordered to produce the journalist in court in response to a complaint filed by his father on May 16.

RSF stated it has seen the transcript of the hearing and that what the Punjab police inspector general told the court was a clear acknowledgement of state responsibility.

“We have asked police across Pakistan,” the inspector general said. “No one has Imran Riaz (…) Imran Riaz Khan was not wanted by us. However, ‘agencies’ had asked for a police van. Why they had asked for a police van, [the court] can summon the agencies and ask.”

“There is no point closing one’s eyes to the ‘agencies’ euphemism. It was clearly Pakistan’s military intelligence agencies that abducted Imran Riaz Khan. It is up to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s civilian government to ensure respect for the rule of law by producing the journalist in court or ordering his release. Failing this, the Pakistani authorities will be held directly responsible for any harm that may have befallen him,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific region.

However, diplomats have told RSF that the Pakistani government’s silence about the TV anchor’s fate suggests that he may have fared badly since his abduction and may even have died in detention.

The TV anchor had become the military’s bugbear because of his and his TV channel’s support for former Prime Minister Imran Khan, RSF stated. He was previously arrested in July last year on the basis of complaints filed by the prosecutor’s office in connection with his criticism of the power of the military and intelligence agencies. And he was detained again in February of this year until a judge ordered his release.

Pakistan’s military, which acts as a “state within the state,” is often alleged to have used its various intelligence agencies and their henchmen to abduct journalists and even torture them while they are held.

The most recent previous target was Gohar Wazir, a journalist who was abducted on April 19. He was repeatedly beaten and given electric shocks during the 30 hours that he was held. Wazir said he was released only after agreeing to record a video supporting the Pakistani military.

Another reported victim of the system was Arshad Sharif, an anchor with ARY News, which also supports the former prime minister. Fearing abduction, Sharif fled Pakistan in August 2022 and found refuge in Kenya only to be gunned down on 23 October. The evidence gathered by RSF points clearly to Pakistani responsibility, the watchdog reports. .