Pakistani human rights groups and unions for media workers have denounced a court order for the arrest of a correspondent at Dawn English-language newspaper following an interview critical of the country’s powerful military.
#IStandWithCyril was trending on Twitter on September 25 with colleagues and politicians criticizing a decision by the Lahore High Court in Punjab Province the previous day to issue an arrest warrant for Cyril Almeida.
The court also ordered authorities to bring the journalist before judges on October 8 at the next hearing of a case seeking action against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif faces treason charges for allegedly trying to defame Pakistan’s state institutions in the interview published in May during which he alleged the army was backing militants who carried out the deadly attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was “greatly perturbed” by the issuance of the arrest warrants against Almeida, who it described as a “widely read and highly respected journalist.”
Almeida is being “hounded for nothing more than doing his job -- speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts," a statement said.
Placing the journalist on Pakistan’s list of individuals who cannot fly out of the country and issuing a nonbailable warrant is an “excessive measure," it also said.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists called the court order another attack on freedom of media and vowed to protest against the move.
"This is unacceptable...How can reporting facts be a crime?" the union’s head, Afzal Butt, said.
The distribution of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest newspaper, was disrupted across most of the country in May, days after Dawn published the interview with Sharif.
Almeida was barred from leaving the country in 2016 shortly after he wrote an article about a rift between the government and the military.
The government lifted the order weeks later.
In a new report published earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the climate for press freedom in Pakistan was deteriorating as the country's army “quietly, but effectively” restricts reporting through "intimidation" and other means.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Pakistan 139th out of the 180 countries in its 2018 Press Freedom index.
With reporting by dpa and Dawn