The global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned what it says are “trumped-up charges of online terrorism and defaming respected institutions” against a prominent investigative journalist in Pakistan.
In an April 16 statement, RSF said that the case against Shahzeb Jillani has been designed to “intimidate and silence” Pakistan’s journalists. He is due to appear in court in the southern city of Karachi on April 17.
“We urge the court to dismiss these charges against Shahzeb Jillani because, from the legal viewpoint, the case is completely inadmissible,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
Jillani, an investigative reporter, has worked for the BBC and Deutsche Welle. He now works for the Urdu-language TV channel Dunya News. He has already obtained an interim bail from the High Court in the southern province of Sindh to evade arrest by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The FIA recently registered a case against Jillani, who is accused of violating four articles in the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and two criminal code provisions, RSF said. “The charges include ‘defamatory remarks against the respected institutions of Pakistan’ and ‘cyber-terrorism,’” the statement added.
According to RSF, the case against Jillani is based on an April 6 complaint filed by a lawyer known for filing suits in the Supreme Court. In the complaint, the lawyer claimed he was offended by Jillani’s “audacious” remarks during a TV show broadcast on December 8, 2017.
Bastard said the case amounts to another instance of Pakistani authorities manipulating the laws in order to silence a journalist. “It is shocking to see how, little by little, case by case, the Pakistani security agencies are tightening their vice in order to intimidate the entire media profession into censoring themselves,” he said.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index. In its annual report issued on April 15, Pakistan’s leading rights watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said it had documented the “unprecedented level” to which the freedom of expression and press freedom have shrunk in the country.