Journalists picked up during PTI govt were not on my orders: Imran

Published July 16, 2022
PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses a seminar in Islamabad on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV
PTI Chairman Imran Khan addresses a seminar in Islamabad on Saturday. — DawnNewsTV

PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday distanced himself from restraints put on media freedom during his government, saying that any journalists picked up by the authorities were not on his directives.

Addressing a seminar on media freedom in Islamabad, he said: "[When I was the prime minister] it was discussed in the cabinet three to four times that some journalist was picked up. [I would like to say that] no journalist was picked up on my instructions. The problem was something else."

The former prime minister said that the issue of abductions and missing persons came up after the war on terror, something which he said he had spoken against often.

"Until I came into power, I didn't know the army's perspective [on the issue] and so I kept speaking against it," Imran recalled, adding that there was no greater pain than seeing the relatives of missing persons coming to ask about their loved ones.

"We came in the government and got to know that many times people were picked up under [the guise of] national security."

Imran said he had taken up the issue with Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, which led to the release of many missing persons.

"They (military leaders) said the problem was of the courts," he said, adding that the explanation provided to him was that it was difficult to prosecute a terrorist in the courts due to a lack of evidence or witnesses.

"Terrorism is such a thing that it became difficult to prove it in the courts and the army feared that if they (terrorists) are released they would again conduct [terrorist] activities."

Nonetheless, he said, an agreement was reached and a bill was about to be passed for missing persons so that at least relatives could be kept in the loop.

Imran said Pakistan stood at a decisive juncture where it was very important for the correct decisions to be made.

The PTI leader rued that a balance had not been achieved in civil-military relations in Pakistan

He said democracy depended on moral strength, instead of physical strength that belonged to the army.

"Because of no balance, a situation has developed that establishment isn't realising [the consequences of] the actions it's committing. We cant afford a weak army ... we have to protect it. If distance between the army and the public keeps increasing — which it is — then it will eventually harm the army and Pakistan."

Imran said the establishment should differentiate between constructive and damaging criticism.

The former prime minister said that any attempt by the establishment to take action against journalists would only harm it instead of providing any benefits.

He said information could not be stopped or controlled in the age of social media.

Imran said that it was a time to "reflect" whether the alleged decision to allow the vote of no-confidence against him to succeed was in Pakistan's favour or not.

Referring to the military failures of Hitler and Napoleon against Russia, Imran said it was important for armed forces' leaders to take U-turns. "Mistakes are made. It is better to realise the mistake and stop digging when you are in a hole," he added.

The PTI chairman said free and fair elections were the only solution to the country's current quagmire.

Stinging rebuke

Shortly after, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb criticised Imran for his remarks.

The information minister highlighted "reports of media crackdowns and censorship" under the PTI government and incidents of violence and harassment against journalists.

She questioned on what grounds Imran was making his claims regarding media freedom and freedom of speech when his government's actions had "proved otherwise".

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