Amnesty urges Pakistan to stop punishing dissenting voices

Islamabad, Jul 6 (EFE).- The nonprofit Amnesty International (AI) urged Pakistani authorities on Wednesday to stop punishing dissenting voices, a day after a former television anchor and popular Youtuber was arrested.

Imran Riaz, a staunch critic of the military establishment and a supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was arrested by the police Tuesday night on a highway while traveling to the capital Islamabad from Lahore.

“Amnesty International is alarmed by news of journalist Imran Riaz Khan’s arrest and urges authorities to stop punishing dissenting voices, as has been a worrying trend in Pakistan for many years,” the rights watchdog said in a statement on Twitter.

The former TV anchor has over 20 cases against him, including treason for maligning state institutions, in different cities of the country.

He was taken into custody while traveling to the capital to get anticipatory bail from the Islamabad High Court in a treason case.

“It’s a fascist regime in Pakistan, many of us r facing cases just because of our journalism,” Khan tweeted on Tuesday before his arrest.

Riaz turned a strong critic of the military establishment after former prime minister Imran Khan was ousted in a vote of no-confidence in April.

The former prime minister blamed the United States of conspiring to oust him with the help of opposition parties in the country over his Moscow visit during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Washington has denied the allegations.

During the weekend, another veteran journalist and critic of the army, Ayaz Amir, was dragged from his car and beaten on the road by unknown men while leaving his office at Dunya TV headquarters in Lahore.

“In the past few weeks, journalists have been disappeared, faced politically motivated charges and even violently attacked for simply doing their job,” the AI statement said.

It further stressed that journalism was not a crime, and needed to be stopped being treated as one.

Journalists and members of civil society in the country have condemned the beating of Amir and the arrest of Riaz.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif directed the Chief Minister of Punjab province, his son Hamza Shehbaz, to conduct a high-level inquiry into the “sad incident.”

Sharif, in a tweet on Jul.2, expressed strong condemnation of the attack on Ayaz Amir, adding that such attacks on media persons were “totally unacceptable in a democratic society.”

Former PM Khan said all those who support democracy and the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution need to come out and protest against arrest of Riaz, and ongoing violence and targeting of journalists that seek to instill fear and silence critical voices.

“Unless we all unite and stand up against this fascism it will be the end of democracy and freedom in Pakistan,” Khan wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.

Riaz was taken off air from Samaa TV in April. His followers on Youtube increased after he started criticizing the army over the “regime change operation” which he claims was orchestrated by the army on the behest of the US.

Riaz has more than 3.15 million subscribers on his Youtube channel and 3.3 million on Twitter.

In recent years, Pakistan has been in the spotlight for its attempts to stifle dissenting voices and curb media freedom.

Many journalists have been made to disappear by the security agencies for voicing concerns about the military’s increasing role in politics, and human rights violations in tribal areas and in the restive Balochistan province.

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