The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Pakistani authorities to immediately release and drop all legal proceedings against Rizwan-ur-Rehman Razi, a TV host for Din News, a privately-owned Urdu-language news station in Lahore.
Razi was arrested and taken into custody yesterday morning in Lahore, according to news reports and CPJ reporting yesterday.
“Expressing opinions, even critical opinions, should not be a crime, in Pakistan or anywhere,” said CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler in a report.
“Justice -- and Pakistan’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press -- can only be served by Rizwan Razi’s immediate release,” the report said.
Razi, also known as “Razi Dada”, was picked up from his home at 10:30am, according to his son, Osama Razi, who told CPJ his father was beaten and bundled into a black car, which he then chased after as it sped away from the house in Lahore.
In an interview with CPJ, Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry confirmed that Razi had been arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency for social media postings that allegedly violated Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act. A photograph was later circulated showing Razi in handcuffs.
A First Information Report (FIR) released by the FIA Cyber Crime Wing, which CPJ has seen, said that Razi had put up “defamatory and obnoxious posts” on his Twitter account against the “judiciary, government institutions and intelligence agencies” of Pakistan.
The FIR further stated that Razi had “confessed” to uploading the posts, apologised and promised to refrain from posting similar material in the future. The agency also said it had seized and searched Razi's mobile phone.
Although it was unclear what specifically led to the arrest, earlier this month, Razi had criticised extrajudicial killings in Punjab at the hands of security forces and pointed fingers at the Army, according to screenshots of Twitter postings provided to CPJ. Razi’s Twitter account, @RaziDada, appeared to have been disabled on Saturday.
Osama Razi said that he expected his father to be released after he goes before a judge for formal charging, although this was not guaranteed, according to the CPJ report.
“My father went out of home to see off friends,” Osama told Reuters of the incident on Saturday morning.
“When the friends left, unknown persons, riding a black Honda Civic car, thrashed and dragged him in the car and fled away ... I ran after the car but could not do anything.”
Pakistani journalists say they face an increasingly hostile climate since the vote last year that saw Prime Minister Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) take power.
A report from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), dated Saturday and seen by Reuters, said Razi had previously been questioned about his Twitter comments. It said authorization had been granted to register a case against him.
FIA officials in Lahore referred questions to the main office in Islamabad, where officials could not be reached.
Khan’s government replaced the party of ousted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was at odds with the powerful military and is currently serving a seven-year prison sentence for corruption.
The increased official pressure has come at a difficult time for the media in general as advertising revenues have plunged and newsroom budgets been slashed.
Government officials say Pakistan has an independent media and the military denies pressuring journalists.
In a separate case, Ammar Ali Jan, an academic also based in Lahore, was arrested over his involvement in a protest at the death of Arman Loni, a regional leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement. He was later released on bail.
A message on Ammar’s Facebook page on Saturday said he was taken at 4:00am. “I am a law-abiding citizen and will not be deterred in the fight for justice,” it said.
Police official Azhar Naveed confirmed the brief detention and bail, which followed other arrests over the protests earlier this week. He said Ammar was charged with taking part in a rally, blocking a road and making “anti-state” speeches.