Pakistan: media worker faces judicial harassment for covering protestEvent
- Initial Date
- Jan 15, 2024
- Event Description
The Government of Pakistan must guarantee the right to peaceful protest across the country, Amnesty International said today as the Baloch Long March protesters were forced to end their month-long sit-in protest in Islamabad following repeated harassment by the authorities.
Hundreds of women in the Baloch Long March journeyed about a thousand miles from Turbat in the southwestern province of Balochistan to the capital city, Islamabad to protest the alleged extrajudicial killing of young Baloch men late last year.
The peaceful protesters, consisting largely of families of victims of enforced disappearances including people as old as 80 and children as young as two years old, had been sleeping in near-freezing temperatures at the sit-in at the National Press Club, Islamabad since 22 December 2023. The Pakistani authorities mounted a campaign of disinformation against them and subjected them to repeated intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions.
“The Pakistani authorities should be ashamed of the harassment meted out to the Baloch Long March protestors. This is not the end the Baloch women would have hoped for when undertaking the perilous journey with their children to demand justice for their families. The authorities have been heartlessly indifferent to the plight and demands of the peaceful protestors camped out in the severe cold for the past month,” said Carolyn Horn, Programme Director, Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
The Pakistani authorities should be ashamed of the harassment meted out to the Baloch Long March protestors.
Carolyn Horn, Programme Director, Law and Policy at Amnesty International “The denial of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have compounded the tremendous social, financial and psychological costs borne by the families of the disappeared. The voices of the people must not be ignored in the run up to the national elections in Pakistan. Human rights must be upheld before, during and after the elections.”
‘Pain and helplessness’ Speaking with Amnesty International, protest organizer Mahrang Baloch said, “The anti-Baloch attitudes of the state, judiciary, media and state-aligned intellectuals have forced us to conclude this phase of our protest. Over the past month, our peaceful protest has been surrounded from all sides by police … (and) we have been subjected to harassment, profiling and threats on a daily basis.”
On 21 January, entry to the ‘International Oppressed Peoples Conference’ organized at the sit-in was denied by police through harassment of attendees and the placement of barbed wire around the area.
Previously, on 2 January, the police had prevented supplies of food, tents and blankets from reaching the sit-in protesters. Electricity to the protest site was also temporarily cut off with protestors complaining of extremely weak mobile signals that prevented them from issuing media updates from the protest site.
The pain of sitting in the cold was better than the pain and helplessness we feel when we go back home.
A protestor “We had to take turns to sleep because blankets were limited. But even then, the pain of sitting in the cold was better than the pain and helplessness we feel when we go back home,” said one of the protestors.
First Information Reports (FIRs) – which initiate criminal proceedings – were filed against protestors from across the country. Amnesty International verified at least 13 such FIRs from Balochistan (Naal, Kohlu, and Hub), Sindh (Karachi, Mirpur Khas and Khairpur), Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Dera Ismail Khan). Protestors have been charged with a wide range of offences, including terrorism, sedition, unlawful assembly, rioting, hate speech, dacoity, unlawful use of loudspeakers and damage to public property.
Detentions and arbitrary arrests On 4 December 2023, Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) leader Manzoor Pashteen was attacked by security forces and taken into custody while on his way to the Turbat sit-in. He remains in custody despite having been granted bail three times since then.
At least 20 participants in the march were unlawfully detained on 17 December 2023 in Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab. Video evidence reviewed by Amnesty confirmed the use of police batons against peaceful protestors, including women. Similarly, batons were used to disperse protestors as they entered Surab, Balochistan on 10 December 2023, resulting in injuries to several protestors.
On 20 December 2023, when the march reached Islamabad, the police used tear gas, water cannons and batons against protestors entering the city and those at the National Press Club. Amnesty International verified the use of force against peaceful protestors through videos and eyewitness accounts immediately after the incident.
On 21 December 2023, two FIRs were registered against the protestors in Islamabad by police and as a result, more than 300 protestors were indiscriminately arrested including women, children, students, older persons, and a woman journalist. Many of the detainees were not given the opportunity to contact their families or arrange for a lawyer themselves.
‘Abused and traumatized’ Forty-seven women protestors and five children were illegally detained at G-7 Womens’ Police Station, Islamabad for more than 24 hours between 21 and 22 December 2023. During this detention, the police made several attempts to forcibly transport some of these protestors to Quetta. These attempts were thwarted only after interventions from civil society and journalists present at the scene.
Some of the children with us were so traumatized that they could not stop shaking from fear.
A woman detainee Speaking with Amnesty International a woman detainee said, “some of the children with us were so traumatized that they could not stop shaking from fear… Even now when (they see) police, the children are terrified… This fear will stay with them even when they grow up.”
Another woman detainee who had been in custody and subjected to verbal abuse said, “they told us that we were here to get attention and get famous.”
While most of the protestors were subsequently released, the cases filed against them for alleged rioting, unlawful assembly, dacoity, and property damage have not been quashed or withdrawn.
Forced to self-censor
Cases have been registered against journalists, including Masood Ahmed Lehri for covering a rally held on 15 January 2024 in Wadh, Balochistan, in support of the sit-in. Fatima Razzak, a journalist for local media outlet Lok Sujag, was detained and questioned on 24 December 2023. She was asked to turn in her devices to the authorities and threatened with consequences for her reporting of the Baloch protest.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Judicial Harassment
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of expression
- Media Worker
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 15 January 2024, Masood Ahmed Lehri, media worker, had charges filed against him by the police for covering a rally against EJK in Baluchistan in Wahd, Pakistan.