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Pakistani Journalists Face Treason Charges For Criticizing Military

Journalists protested against the arrest of media professionals in Islamabad in July. (file photo)

Police in Pakistan have filed treason charges against three journalists known for their criticism of the country’s powerful military, in what rights activists described as a blatant attack on the freedom of expression.

Bilal Farooqi, editor at the English-language The Express Tribune daily, was briefly arrested in the southern city of Karachi but was released after an outcry on social media, his colleagues said.

The charges against Farooqi have not been not dropped and he will have to appear in court, police official Imtiaz Ali said.

A court in the capital, Islamabad, on September 16 separately approved temporary bail for Asad Toor, a producer at broadcaster SAMAA, until next week.

The third journalist, Absar Alam, faces imminent arrest after a case was registered against him in the central province of Punjab.

The charges come days after another journalist received death threats for a story on how the family of a retired army general had built a $100 million business empire in the United States.

Unions for journalists have condemned the moves, calling them part of a military-run censorship campaign that began when the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan took over in 2018.

"It is a blatant attack on the freedom of expression," said Haris Khalique, secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Attacks, intimidation and online abuse against journalists critical of the army have become common in Pakistan, a country where 61 media professionals have been killed since 1922.