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Tuesday 21 January 2020

Journalists protest a media ban in Islamabad on December 6. Pakistan ranks 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of a Pakistani journalist who it says has been held for days on a "flimsy" charge of posting "anti-state" content on social media.

Police in the city of Lahore arrested Azhar-ul Haq Wahid on January 16, and a local judge on January 20 rejected a request for his release, ordering him placed in judicial custody, RSF said in a statement.

The Paris-based media-freedom watchdog said Wahid, a reporter for Channel 5 TV and the newspaper Khabrain, is facing up to three years in prison.

His arrest "is clearly another attempt to intimidate journalists who refuse to be censored," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk.

"We call on the Lahore courts to dismiss the charges against him and to free him at once. The credibility of the rule of law in Pakistan is at stake," Bastard added.

RSF quoted the Lahore police report as saying "anti-state and defamatory material against the public functionaries and state departments" was posted on Wahid's Facebook page.

But the report failed to identify the offending material, the group said.

RSF quoted Wahid's lawyer as saying his client was being punished for his criticism of the government and his comments about a recent court decision overturning the death sentence passed on former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in December.

Wahid was charged under two articles of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which RSF said was "often used by the authorities to silence journalists who dare to cross the regime's implicit red lines."

"As the traditional media are heavily censored, online platforms have become the only place where Pakistanis can express opinions at variance with the official line," according to the watchdog.

The country is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

FILE: Journalists and activists protests in Karachi in February.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says journalism remains a “dangerous profession,” with 49 journalists killed this year, 389 currently imprisoned, and 57 others being held hostage.

According to the Paris-based media freedom watchdog’s annual worldwide roundup of deadly violence and abusive treatment against journalists, released on December 17, the number of journalists killed in 2019 is “at its lowest in 16 years.”

The “historically low” figure, compared with an annual average of 80 journalists killed during the past two decades, is mainly the result of a fall in the number of journalists and other media professionals killed in war zones, RSF said.

A total of 17 journalists were killed while covering conflicts in Syria (10), Afghanistan (5), and Yemen (2) -- compared with 34 last year.

However, the number of those killed in countries “at peace” remained as high as in previous years, with 10 killed in Mexico alone.

"More and more journalists are being deliberately murdered in connection with their work in democratic countries, which poses a real challenge for the democracies where these journalists live and work,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire warned.

While fewer journalists were killed, more ended up behind bars.

A total of 389 journalists were held in connection with the provision of news and information at the start of December -- 12 percent more than the number held on the same date last year.

Nearly half were imprisoned in three countries -- China (120), Egypt (34), and Saudi Arabia (32).

More than 40 percent of them are citizen journalists seeking to disseminate independent information via social networks.

“Having intensified its crackdown on the Uyghur minority, China alone holds a third of the worldwide total of arbitrarily detained journalists,” the report said.

By December 1, 57 media professionals are being held hostage across the globe, mainly in Syria (30), Yemen (15), Iraq (11), and Ukraine (1).

“Islamic State and the various other radical armed groups mainly use their hostages as bargaining chips or for propaganda purposes,” RSF said.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Huthi rebels and the Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine “also treat their hostages as prisoners guilty of crimes for which they must be severely punished.”

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