Global Media Bodies Condemn Arrest of Two Pakistani Journalists Under Cybercrime Act

The case against Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat refers to discussions the two have hosted on the Pakistan military's involvement in politics and the legal system.

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New Delhi: Two journalists in Lahore, Pakistan have been arrested and then release under the cybercrime act by the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Media bodies have condemned the charges against Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat, and termed them as harassment.

Both journalists were arrested on August 7. Mir is the CEO of the privately owned news agency Googly News TV and Shafqat hosts the YouTube news commentary channel ‘Tellings with Imran Shafqat’.

Both the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have issued statements expressing solidarity with the two journalists and questioning the charges against them.

The FIA released the two journalists on Saturday evening after strong protests from the media community, but claimed that the two had been booked for allegedly “defaming honorable judges, Pakistan Army, and disrespecting women”. The two have been charged under Sections 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation), 500 (punishment for defamation), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Pakistan Penal Code, The News reported, and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.

The case against the two is reportedly based on a complain from Murad Saeed, the federal minister for communications and minister for postal services. According to AP, the complaint referred to a video discussions featuring the two journalists on the Pakistan army’s involvement in the country’s politics and judiciary.

“The partial copy of the police report, which CPJ reviewed, cites several videos posted to the YouTube channels of Googly News TV and Tellings with Imran Shafqat, including commentary on the Pakistan army’s role in governance, the judiciary, and the regional impact of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor,” the CPJ has said.

The two journalists have denied all the charges in their official statements, calling them “false” and “baseless”.

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In its statement supporting the two journalists, IFJ has said, “The increasing number of cases against journalists related to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act is leading to freedom of the press being suppressed. The IFJ urges Pakistani authorities to withdraw the cases against Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat and to stop using the PECA law against journalists.”

During their arrests, officials also reportedly seized electronics from the two journalists. “Officers confiscated two phones and a laptop from Mir during his arrest and demanded his passwords, which he refused to divulge; officers also confiscated Shafqat’s phone, the journalists told CPJ. Shafqat said officers returned his SIM card upon his release, and Mir said his phones and laptop were still in official custody,” the CPJ has said.

“Pakistan authorities’ arrests of journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat are emblematic of the government’s ongoing campaign to chill critical reporting,” said Carlos Martinez de La Serna, CPJ’s program director. “The Federal Investigation Agency must immediately drop its investigations into the journalists, return their confiscated devices, and cease harassing members of the press in retaliation for their coverage.”