A global media watchdog urged Pakistan to immediately disclose the whereabouts of a nationally known television journalist Friday who has been missing since his arrest on May 11.
Imran Riaz Khan has 4 million YouTube subscribers and more than 5 million followers on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. He was detained by police at the Sialkot airport in the central Punjab province as he tried to leave the country over fears of his arrest.
The journalist, often referred to as Imran Riaz, was accused of inciting people to violence through his reporting.
“Saturday marks 100 days of the disappearance of anchor @ImranRiazKhan, who has not been seen since his arrest on May 11,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement released via X.
The U.S.-based group noted that Pakistani authorities had repeatedly failed to present Riaz in court amid a “larger crackdown” on the media. “CPJ calls on authorities to immediately reveal his whereabouts and the conditions in which he is held.”
Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, told VOA it was “troubling” that Riaz remains missing and urged authorities to spare no effort to find him and ensure his safety.
“His continued disappearance shows the dangerous environment Pakistani journalists are operating in, where they often face retaliation for their critical reporting or commentary,” she said, urging Pakistani authorities to spare no effort to find Riaz and ensure his safety.
VOA contacted the Pakistani caretaker information minister for comments and was awaiting a response. Riaz was taken into custody under then-Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government.
Sharif dissolved the parliament and his government earlier this month when its mandated term ended, and a caretaker administration subsequently took charge to oversee elections in Pakistan.
Father says police abucted Riaz
In his complaint filed at a Sialkot police station, Riaz’s father alleged that police abducted his son, and requested his early and safe release.
Former government officials would not confirm the arrest, leading to allegations the powerful military was behind it because the missing journalist would frequently criticize in his talk shows the institution’s alleged meddling in political affairs.
Reporters Without Borders, known globally by its French acronym RSF, claimed in late May that it had received information from “confidential diplomatic sources” that Riaz was tortured and “may even have died in detention.”
The missing journalist’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, dismissed those fears as unfounded. He appeared confident of securing Riaz’s release on bail from the high court in Lahore, the provincial capital, which is hearing the case.
However, Ashfaq acknowledged Wednesday that his lawsuit was suffering from unspecified delays.
“The last date of [the] hearing was on July 5, the case was then fixed for July 25. It was rescheduled by the High Court due to the unavailability of the bench of LHC CJ (chief justice),” he wrote on X.
“The same bench is hearing the case from day one. Since then, it has been requested to fix the case repeatedly for an early date of hearing, and the next date is still awaited,” Ashfaq said.
Police officers told the court during a May hearing that they did not have Riaz in custody and could not find him in any of the Punjab jails. Pakistani intelligence agencies have also denied holding him.
Human rights groups have since condemned it as an “enforced disappearance.”
Arrested after criticizing military
Riaz was a vocal supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military.
But after Khan was removed from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April 2022, the journalist started harshly criticizing the military that Khan alleged was behind his ouster.
The journalist’s arrest came as a part of a nationwide crackdown on Khan supporters after they allegedly vandalized military properties in different parts of Pakistan to protest the short-lived arrest of the former prime minister in May.
Riaz had posted a video on his YouTube channel just before his arrest, accusing the establishment, a reference to the military, of harassing him and threatening to arrest him.
Global press freedom advocacy groups list Pakistan among the countries declared unsafe for journalists.
The CPJ says that at least 97 media workers and journalists have been killed, mostly for their work, in the South Asian nation since 1992. But investigations into these cases have not led to any convictions.
Source : VOA News