Pakistan ranks low on most indices of press freedom and freedom of expression. As if to reinforce this view of arbitrary injustice, on Monday September 24, the Lahore High Court issued an arrest warrant against well-known journalist and editor of Dawn, Cyril Almeida.
Almeida was accused of treason for a story that he had filed in May of this year in which former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been quoted speaking out against his country’s handling of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The court also placed Almeida’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL), preventing him from leaving the country.
In the same judgement the court also summoned both Sharif and his successor as prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, for charges of treason relating to the same article.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan released a statement that it was “greatly perturbed to learn that the Lahore High Court has issued a non-bailable arrest warrant for journalist Cyril Almeida, requiring him to appear at the next hearing of a case seeking action against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on charges of treason.”
Further, the HRCP “termed the court’s decision ‘regrettable’, adding that ‘Mr Almeida, a widely read and highly respected journalist, is being hounded for nothing more than doing his job – speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts. As a law-abiding citizen, Mr Almeida has no reason not to appear before the court as directed. Placing him on the Exit Control List (ECL) and issuing a non-bailable warrant is an excessive measure. ‘The ease with which Mr Almeida’s interview with the former Prime Minister was perceived as an attempt to allegedly defame state institutions, and the pace at which this has spiraled into charges of treason, only serve to further choke press freedom in Pakistan. Journalism – sensible, rational, independent journalism – is not a crime. It most certainly is not treason. HRCP strongly urges the honorable court to give Mr Almeida the opportunity to appear at the scheduled hearing of his own volition and to have his name removed from the ECL immediately.”’