Bilawal Bhutto stands by Cyril Almeida

Islamabad Politics Report/ Moazzam Raza Tabassam: Pakistan’s Opposition leading Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari stands by Cyril Almeida to insure freedom of press , freedom of expression and a free media in Pakistan.

Mr Almeida broke no law by interviewing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said PPP Chairman expressing surprise and dismay on issuance of arrest warrants for journalist Cyril Almeida on treason charges by the Lahore High Court.

“Why should a journalist not interview someone? What law stops a journalist from interviewing a politician?”said Chairman

Mr Almeida broke no law by interviewing former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Why should a journalist not interview someone? What law stops a journalist from interviewing a politician?”

The Lahore High Court Tuesday issued a non-bailable warrant against Cyril Almeida, the Assistant Editor of Pakistan-based newspaper Dawn, after the journalist failed to comply with three notices to appear in court. Fixing the next date of hearing on October 8. the bench was headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprised Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir.

The case refers to an interview given by former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Almeida in May 2018. In the interview, Sharif allegedly claimed that those involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India were from Pakistan.

The NSC, Pakistan’s top civil and military leadership, had called Nawaz’s statement “fallacious”, and said it was “incorrect and misleading”.

Taking to Twitter Monday, Almeida said, “Spoke to the lawyer, there is a warrant, am back on the ECL and will have to appear before the court on Oct 8… how’s your Monday been?”

The editor of Dawn, meanwhile, said Almeida will “certainly” appear in court on the next date of hearing. In a note, he said, “The notice served on Cyril Almeida was delivered at Dawn’s Islamabad bureau in the middle of last week, and journalists and officials at the bureau say the earlier two notices were never delivered.

“Treating Mr Almeida like he is a criminal and trying him for treason no less is shocking! This adds on to the perception that media is under siege in Pakistan. Mr Almeida was doing his job — nothing less, nothing more,” said Chairman Bilawal Bhutto.

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

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

The petitioner, Amina Malik, moved court seeking action against Sharif for allegedly defaming state institutions. The petitioner claimed that his “anti-state” statement could be used against Pakistan by its enemies.

The case also implicates former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. The petitioner claimed Abbasi told Sharif of concerns the military leadership had raised regarding his statement. As these concerns were disclosed in a National Security Council (NSC) meeting, the petitioner said it was “a clear violation of his oath as he was bound not to allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct”. Abbasi took over as PM after disqualification of Nawaz Sharif was ousted last year.

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