• Report says political commentators were told they may be targeted
• Fawad rejects story as based on conspiracy theories
LONDON: British security officials and European intelligence services have warned Pakistani dissidents living in the region that their lives are in danger, a report in The Guardian said on Sunday.
The report said exiled Pakistanis who are critical of the military have been warned by authorities here that they will be targeted.
“Pakistan, a strong UK ally — particularly on intelligence issues — might be prepared to target individuals on British soil,” the story said.
It noted an erosion of press freedom since Imran Khan came to power and says “the concern now is that Pakistan appears to be moving from suppressing criticism within its borders to targeting critics based overseas”.
The story noted that a man was charged in London last month with conspiring to murder political activist Ahmad Waqass Goraya in the Netherlands.
It also said political analyst Ayesha Siddiqa received an Osman warning from the Metropolitan Police — a warning named after a case from the late 90s. The warning is issued by British authorities who believe there is a death threat to the prospective victim.
“Officers have even asked her husband if anybody had offered him money to ask his wife to return to Pakistan,” the report said.
It quoted YouTuber and columnist Gul Bukhari, who fled to the UK after she was abducted in Lahore in 2018, as saying that the Met Police has warned her not to share her home address with anyone.
The Guardian report features a statement from Mark Lyall Grant, the former UK high commissioner to Pakistan, who said: “If there is illegal pressure, in particular on journalists in the UK, then I would expect the law enforcement agencies and the British government to take notice of that and to make an appropriate legal and/or diplomatic response.”
“If British nationals or residents in the UK acting lawfully are being harassed or threatened by the ISI, or anyone else, then the British government would certainly take an interest.”
When asked to comment on the report, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn it is “unfortunate and based on conspiracy theories”. “The Met Police is holding one of Pakistan’s biggest terrorists there… how can they talk about threats? This is propaganda against ISI,” he said.
Mr Chaudhry also dismissed the threats to journalists in Pakistan, saying the existence of hundreds of news channels “negates the perception that the media is squeezed”.
“The truth is that international powers squeeze countries by putting sanctions, and freedom of expression is a new blackmailing term. Pakistan is probably the freest country when it comes to freedom of speech. In fact, it is so free that there is no culture of libel and defamation laws. If it was there, journalists would be bankrupt.”
When asked to comment on the man arrested in connection with a conspiracy to murder Mr Goraya, the minister said: “They may have their own problems, it has nothing to do with us [the government].”
The International Federation of Journalists puts Pakistan as the world’s fifth most dangerous country for journalists. In a 2020 world press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Pakistan 145th out of 180 countries.
Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2021