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VOA Journalist Held in Custody Overnight in Pakistan

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A journalist who reports for VOA’s Deewa Service was held in custody overnight in Pakistan’s restive Swat Valley. 

Police late Wednesday arrested Fayaz Zafar and took him to a district jail on accusations that he “exploits freedom of speech,” including on social media, according to an order issued by the office of the deputy commissioner in Swat.

The journalist said police beat him while he was in custody, before releasing him on Thursday.

Zafar told VOA’s Deewa Service that police beat him for about 15 minutes, using their guns and fists. 

“They hit me on my head, back, shoulders and legs. I told them I am suffering from an illness, but they did not stop,” said Zafar, who has a medical condition. 

The journalist said police also used rifle butts to hit his vehicle, which remains in police possession. 

Zafar was arrested under colonial-era laws that allow police to arrest anyone deemed a threat to public order.

The order for Zafar’s detention, dated August 30, was issued under the West Pakistan public order ordinance. The order, viewed by VOA, claimed that the journalist “exploits the phrase freedom of speech” and uses social media to spread “fake, offensive and hatred;” to defame authorities and high-profile figures; and to incite the public against state institutions.

“He is using wrong perceptions through social media to gain popularity,” according to the order.

The journalist, who reports on militancy, extremism and the economy in the Swat Valley, denies the accusations. 

Zafar said that authorities pressured him to sign an affidavit to restrict his reporting but that he refused to do so.

VOA’s attempts to reach police and officials in the Swat Valley via phone and messaging app for comment about the arrest were not successful.

Pakistan’s caretaker Minister for Information Murtaza Solangi noted the arrest and said he will file an inquiry.

Zafar has worked for VOA for 13 years. In a recent report from August he covered a protest by residents about the rise in militancy and the arrest of activists demanding peace.

The journalist has previously received intimidating messages and threats related to his coverage. 

Pakistani journalists have condemned the arrest of Zafar, calling it an “illegal detention.”

Pakistan is a tough country for media freedom, with reporters having to navigate red lines dictated by officials, says media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The country ranks 150 out of 180 countries, where 1 has the best environment, on the global Press Freedom Index.  

This article originated in VOA’s Deewa Service.

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