KARACHI: The Amnesty International and Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) have expressed concern over the issuance of arrest warrants for journalist Cyril Almeida.
In a press release issued on Thursday, the Amnesty called upon the authorities in Pakistan to ensure that the criminal justice system is not used to harass or intimidate journalists.
Mr Almeida, an assistant editor at Dawn, has been summoned by the Lahore High Court over an interview he conducted of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Mr Sharif is facing charges of treason for alleging in the interview that Pakistan-based militants had carried out the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
“Cyril Almeida has simply been doing his job as a journalist. He conducted an interview with a former prime minister and reported what he was told. While the Lahore High Court is entitled to demand his appearance, the authorities must be careful not to use the criminal justice system to harass or intimidate journalists. “Journalism is not a crime and journalists doing their work should not be treated as criminals,” said Omar Waraich, an Amnesty office-bearer for South Asia.
According to the LHC, it issued the warrants as Mr Almeida did not appear before it during hearings in the treason case against Nawaz Sharif despite serving of three notices.
Staffers at Dawn’s Islamabad bureau, however, say that the first two notices were never delivered and the third arrived only last week.
Mr Almeida and Dawn have both said they are willing to cooperate with the courts.
“The new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a number of very positive pledges when it comes to human rights. We expect his government will also commit to the protection of freedom of expression, and ensure a safe and enabling environment for journalists and other human rights defenders so that they can do their work freely and without fear of reprisals,” said Mr Waraich, the Amnesty office-bearer.
In its statement RSF called upon the Lahore High Court to rescind the warrants for Mr Almeida. “It is absolutely unacceptable that Cyril Almeida should be accused of treason simply for interviewing a politician,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on the court to immediately withdraw this arrest warrant, which bears all the hallmarks of an ignominious act of harassment.”
Mr Bastard added: “Crude procedural abuses are clearly being used to intimidate this journalist in order to deter him from doing his job. And behind him, it is Dawn’s editorial freedom that the establishment is targeting.”