Pakistani authorities should cease harassing journalist Muhammad Bilal Ghauri and allow all members of the press to freely report on state institutions, including the military, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Today, M. Waseem Sikandar, a sub-inspector at the Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crime Reporting Centre in Islamabad, issued a summons for Ghauri to appear for questioning on June 25 regarding alleged “defamation through social media via Youtube,” according to a copy of the summons, which CPJ reviewed, and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
The summons states that it was issued in response to a complaint by Syed Abbas Mohiuddin, a former member of the Provincial Assembly of Attock District, but does not describe the specific defamation allegations.
Ghauri, who publishes political commentary on his YouTube channel, which has about 90,000 subscribers and previously worked as a contributor to the Urdu-language newspaper The Daily Jang, told CPJ that he believed the complaint was likely issued in response to a video series he aired from 2019 to 2020 about Pakistan’s army chiefs.
“Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency needs to accept that critical coverage of key state institutions, including the army, is an essential aspect of democracy and press freedom,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should stop harassing Muhammad Bilal Ghauri, cease summoning him for questioning, and allow him and other journalists to report freely.”
Ghauri told CPJ that he previously received a summons on June 16 for questioning yesterday. In that summons, which CPJ reviewed, authorities did not specify the allegations against Ghauri or who made them. Ghauri said he sent his lawyer in his place, who told authorities that the journalist would only appear for questioning if authorities supplied more information about the allegations.
Ghauri told CPJ that he spoke to Sikandar over the phone on June 16, and said the officer described the YouTube series about Pakistan’s army chiefs as “problematic,” but refused to disclose further details regarding the complaint.
Ghauri said he plans to challenge today’s summons before the Islamabad High Court, and said if the court did not drop the order, then he would appear for questioning on June 25.
Ghauri told CPJ that he has been on indefinite leave from The Daily Jang since May 5, and said he believed that military personnel had pressured the newspaper into dropping his work. CPJ emailed the newspaper for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.
Previously, in 2019, individuals who identified themselves as members of the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency repeatedly called Ghauri and told him to stop talking about “sensitive issues” on his YouTube channel, and specifically cited his reporting on military chiefs, the journalist told CPJ.
Ghauri also said that three individuals who identified themselves as members of the intelligence agency visited his brother’s home in the village of Zarif Shaheed on July 31, 2019, and urged him to tell Ghauri to stop criticizing the army in Daily Jang and on YouTube.
CPJ emailed the Federal Investigative Agency for comment, but did not receive any reply. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Syed Abbas Mohiuddin.