| 23 July 2024, Tuesday |

Pakistani journalist who supported jailed ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan is freed by his captors

A prominent Pakistani television journalist who had been missing for over four months, following his arrest by police, has returned home on Monday after being released, as confirmed by both the police and his colleagues.
It is widely believed that Imran Riaz Khan, known for publicly supporting jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was being held by security agencies. The two men are not related.

Imran Riaz Khan was arrested at an airport in Sialkot city in Punjab province in May as he tried to leave the country after sharing a video message saying that the space for him to do his job was shrinking in Pakistan and he was leaving so he could continue his professional work.

He went missing after his arrest, and since then his family had been trying to determine his whereabouts. Security agencies are notorious for holding people without producing them before the courts as required by law.

Police in Sialkot announced Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he had been “safely recovered” and was “now with his family.” They provided no further details.

Hamid Mir, a prominent TV journalist, confirmed that Khan had reached his home in Lahore. Khan’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, also confirmed his freedom on social media, without saying who had held him.

No one has claimed responsibility for Khan’s abduction. The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and Pakistan’s journalist community had demanded his release.

Khan has more than 5 million followers on X and is highly popular among supporters of former Prime Minister Khan, the country’s leading opposition figure who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. The former prime minister was arrested in August on corruption charges and sentenced to three years in prison which was later suspended, though he remains in jail.

Imran Riaz Khan had written extensively and produced TV shows in support of the ex-prime minister before going missing.

Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf, welcomed his release.

Last Thursday, agents from the Federal Investigation Agency arrested an Islamabad-based TV anchor, Khalid Jamil, who is known for criticizing the authorities, on charges of spreading false information about state institutions on social media.

Pakistan has long been an unsafe country for journalists. In 2020, it ranked ninth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual Global Impunity Index, which assesses countries where journalists are harassed and killed without the assailants being held accountable.

In recent years, activists and journalists have increasingly come under attack by the government and the security establishment, restricting the space for a free press, criticism and dissent.