The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in a statement on Tuesday expressed concern over the issuance of a non-bailable arrest warrant against journalist Cyril Almeida and the placement of his name on the no-fly list.

On Monday, the Lahore High Court (LHC) had issued warrants for Dawn Assistant Editor Cyril Almeida and ordered the concerned authorities to put his name on the ECL for not attending proceedings in a petition seeking action against PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on treason charges.

It should be mentioned that Almeida was being represented by his counsel in court, but the bench had insisted on him being present in person.

"The HRCP is greatly perturbed to learn that the LHC 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," read a statement issued by HRCP Chairman Dr Mehdi Hasan.

The HRCP 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," the statement read.

While remarking that "journalism — sensible, rational, independent journalism — is not a crime or treason", the HRCP urged the 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."

The controversy

The case in which Almeida has been ordered to be produced before the court was filed by civil society member Amina Malik through Advocate Azhar Siddique.

It seeks action against Nawaz Sharif under treason charges for allegedly trying to defame state institutions in an interview to Dawn. It also seeks action against former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for allegedly not honouring his oath of office and disclosing the minutes of a National Security Council (NSC) meeting to Nawaz.

Soon after the publication of Sharif's interview, Indian media had blown up his remarks, terming it an admission on part of the former prime minister that non-state actors from Pakistan were involved in the Mumbai attacks in which terrorists had killed more than 150 people and injured over 300 others in about a dozen shooting and bombing attacks in different localities.

The NSC, after a meeting, had issued a statement saying: "The participants observed that it was very unfortunate that the opinion arising out of either misconceptions or grievances was being presented in disregard of concrete facts and realities. The participants unanimously rejected the allegations and condemned the fallacious assertions."

It is pertinent to mention that the NSC statement had not named Nawaz while addressing the controversy around the 'misleading' comments about Mumbai attack. Soon after the NSC meeting, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a press conference had clarified that the NSC had in fact condemned “misreporting” and not his party’s supreme leader’s statement.

Separately, Nawaz had rejected the NSC statement, describing it as "painful and regrettable", and said that it was "not based on facts".