Courtesy: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) & Hamid Mir
Renowned journalist Hamid Mir tweets:
Pakistani Journalist @ShahidAslam87 was fired from his job immediately after his arrest. There is no evidence that he leaked the data about the assets of former Army Chief Gen Bajwa to @Ahmad_Noorani There is no legal ground against both.
Pakistan authorities must cease harassing journalists Ahmad Noorani and Shahid Aslam and allow them to work without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
In late May, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) issued an investigative report, which CPJ reviewed, accusing the journalists of involvement in illegally accessing the tax records of former Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and his family alongside three officials with the country’s Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
The FIA’s Anti-Corruption Circle opened an investigation into those board officials on December 15, according to a first information report reviewed by CPJ. The investigation followed a November 2022 article on Bajwa and his family’s assets published on the independent news website Fact Focus by Noorani, who contributes to the outlet from exile in the U.S. The Pakistan government subsequently blocked domestic access to Fact Focus for around 24 hours, Noorani told CPJ by phone.
The investigative report, known as a challan, declared Noorani a “proclaimed offender” in the case and stated that “legal efforts are being made for his arrest.” If Noorani does not surrender to the agency, the FIA may initiate a legal process to confiscate his properties and assets, the journalist said, adding that authorities did not send a court summons or arrest warrant to his address in Pakistan, which is listed in the challan.
The same challan accused Aslam, a freelance journalist and former correspondent for the privately owned broadcaster BOL News, of offering a bribe to FBR officials to obtain the tax data. Aslam, who has critically reported on the FIA, told CPJ by phone that he denied all allegations against him and was not involved in the Fact Focus article. Aslam told CPJ that he has been summoned to appear in court on July 19, when the bench will determine the nature of the charges against him and the three FBR officials.
In January 2023, the FIA arrested Aslam and seized his mobile phone and laptop, accusing him of involvement in the leak. The phone and laptop remain in the agency’s custody for forensic analysis, according to the challan and Aslam.
“Pakistani authorities targeting exiled journalist Ahmad Noorani following his reporting on the tax records of Pakistan’s former army chief and his family is a clear intimidation and threat to press freedom,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must drop any investigation into Noorani and journalist Shahid Aslam, and immediately return the electronic devices seized during Aslam’s arrest.”
Noorani, who previously worked as a senior reporter for the privately owned Pakistani newspaper The News International and critically covered the country’s military and intelligence agencies, survived a near-fatal attack in October 2017 in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. Authorities have failed to hold those behind the attack accountable and did not conduct geo-fencing—the identification of active mobile numbers in a specific area and a common practice used during investigations in Pakistan—to identify the perpetrators, Noorani told CPJ.
In 2020, while working from exile, Noorani received death threats in retaliation for his critical reporting on another retired army general.
CPJ’s calls and messages to FIA Director-General Mohsin Butt and Islamabad Police Inspector-General Akbar Nasir Khan received no replies. CPJ was unable to identify contact information for Bajwa.