Pakistani authorities have registered sedition cases against four journalists based abroad for their alleged role in inciting unrest across Pakistan on May 9, following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), have condemned the charges against Shaheen Sehbai, Wajahat Saeed Khan, Sabir Shakir and Moeed Pirzada and urged the authorities to cease their targeting of journalists.

On June 10, complainant Muhammad Aslam registered a First Information Report (FIR) at Islamabad’s Ramna Police Station against journalists Shaheen Sehbai and Wajahat Saeed Khan. The FIR, which also named two former army personnel, claimed that Sehbai and Mehdi, both living abroad, had incited people against defence institutions and had attempted to “create anarchy” in Pakistan.

The report, which also accused the journalists of serving the interests of foreign intelligence agencies, has resulted in an official investigation by Islamabad police, who invoked anti-terrorism, sedition, mutiny and criminal conspiracy sections from Pakistan’s legal code.

Similar charges were registered two days later against journalists Sabir Shakir and Moeed Pirzada for their alleged role in the promotion of violence and unrest. An FIR lodged at Aapbara police station in Islamabad alleged that the pair and retired Colonel Syed Akbar Hussain were working for foreign anti-state agents and had directed protestors via video and social media at the beginning of the May 9 unrest. All four journalists have rejected the allegations.

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The IFJ has documented a number of legal, safety and security threats to Pakistani journalists in exile in recent years, including the 2020 death of Sajid Hussain in Sweden. The body of the founder and chief editor of the Balochistan Times was recovered from a river on April 23, 2020, after being reported missing the previous month. In October 2022, former ARY News anchor Arshad Sharif was killed by Kenyan police months after facing sedition charges in Pakistan.

The IFJ said it is concerned at the implications for media freedom and freedom of expression in Pakistan, as sedition, terrorism, and conspiracy charges continue to be laid against Pakistani journalists both at home and abroad.

“In a polarised political environment where journalists and media workers face threats, harassment and even death, these allegations continue to weaken the safety and security of media workers,” the IFJ said in a statement.

It urged the Pakistani authorities to immediately drop all charges against journalists Moeed Pirzada, Sabir Shakir, Wajahat Saeed Khan, and Shaheen Sehbai.”

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