News media and human rights groups condemned the arrest of a Pakistani journalist accused of aiding Ahmad Noorani’s reporting on assets amassed by Pakistan’s army chief.
Shahid Aslam, a reporter for Bol News, was jailed on Jan. 13 and charged with sharing leaked personal tax data of Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family.
Noorani said government officials, not Aslam, provided the leaked data used for the story published by his news website, FactFocus in November.
“The arrest of Shahid Aslam by the military-led government was absolutely wrong,” said Noorani, an Alfred Friendly fellow in 2020.
Aslam also denied providing Noorani with the leaked documents revealing that the family of Pakistan’s most powerful military chief accumulated nearly $56 million during his six years in office.
Noorani developed the FactFocus investigative journalism outlet at the Missouri School of Journalism during his Alfred Friendly fellowship.
Pakistani authorities blocked access to Noorani’s website inside the country for a day and ordered an investigation into the leak of the personal financial documents. Noorani, who now lives outside Pakistan, has also been charged by the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) with taking confidential tax information illegally.
Aslam, an accomplished investigative journalist who has written articles critical of the FIA in the past, was released on bond on Jan. 19. The Pakistan Press Foundation said it “strongly condemns” the arrest of Aslam in connection with a Fact Focus investigative story.
“As stated in court, Aslam was asked to share his laptop password,” the foundation said. “This is a blatant violation of the recently enacted Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Bill, 2021 that guarantees the privacy of journalists’s works and sources.”
As he was being escorted out of a court hearing and flanked by reporters, Aslam could be heard vowing that he would never reveal his password.
The press foundation said, “The arrest of the journalist is a clear attack on press freedom and violates Aslam’s rights to report without the fear of consequences. “It is a chilling example for other journalists showcasing the wrath of the state when a journalist investigates those in power.”
The Association of Electronic Media Editors also condemned Aslam’s arrest and said he was “being tortured to know his sources.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the arrest not only restricted Aslam’s freedom of expression, but “such tactics set the dangerous precedent of obstructing the work of investigative journalists.”
Human Rights Watch warned, “Space for free expression and dissent in Pakistan is rapidly shrinking.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Pakistani authorities should allow the media to freely and independently report on military officials.
“The arrest of reporter Shahid Aslam underscores the dangerous environment for journalists in Pakistan,” Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator said.
In a Facebook post after his release, Aslam wrote, “The journey of speaking truth to power and exposing powerful ruling elite will be continued even if the road is ‘tough and rough.’ Journalists of this country will keep informing its people about truths and facts ignoring the consequences attached to this cause because #journalismisnotacrime.”