HRCP terms issuance of non-bailable arrest warrant for Almeida ‘regrettable’

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–Bilawal says warrants against Almeida violate freedom of expression

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Monday issued a statement terming the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) decision to issue a non-bailable arrest warrant for journalist Cyril Almeida “regrettable”, claiming that the journalist “is being hounded for nothing more than doing his job by reporting facts”.

“The court’s decision to issue a non-bailable warrant for @cyalm is regrettable: as a widely read and highly respected journalist, he is being hounded for nothing more than doing his job – speaking on the record to a political figure and reporting the facts.”

A press release by the human rights watchdog titled Journalism is not a crime says: HRCP is 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.”

“In a statement issued today, HRCP has 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 spiralled 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 honourable 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.”

On May 12, Nawaz Sharif gave an interview to a local daily in which he had stated, “Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?”

“We have isolated ourselves. Despite giving sacrifices, our narrative is not being accepted. Afghanistan’s narrative is being accepted, but ours is not. We must look into it,” he added.

BILAWAL SAYS WARRANTS AGAINST FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION:

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed surprise and dismay on the issuance of arrest warrants for journalist Cyril Almeida on treason charges by the LHC.

“Treating Almeida like a criminal and trying him for treason is not less shocking. This adds on to the perception that media is under siege in Pakistan.  Almeida was doing his job — nothing less, nothing more,” said Chairman Bilawal Bhutto.

Bilawal said that the Pakistani media is already facing the worst kind of censorship. “Dictators who abrogated the constitution and actually committed treason are roaming free while journalists who are only doing their jobs are being tried for treason,” he said.

The PPP chairman said that Almeida broke no law by interviewing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Why should a journalist not interview someone? Which law stops a journalist from interviewing a politician?” he asked.

Bilawal said that PPP stands by freedom of expression and wants a free media in Pakistan. “Democracy without a free media is a sham democracy,” he concluded.