Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has summoned former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to appear before it over a treason case, while issuing arrest warrants for a prominent journalist who interviewed the former premier, according to a court order.
The Lahore High Court on Monday summoned Sharif to appear for the next hearing on October 8, in a case relating to an interview with prominent journalist Cyril Almeida.
In the interview, published in May, PML-N party chief Sharif implied that Pakistan’s powerful military and intelligence services had allowed attackers involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed more than 160 people, to operate with impunity.
“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” he said in that interview, published in Dawn, Pakistan’s most respected daily newspaper.
The remarks prompted a crisis in an already embattled relationship between the then ruling PML-N government and the military, which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 71-year history. Sharif was dismissed from his post as prime minister by the Supreme Court in July last year.
He was arrested in July this year on corruption charges, but released last week pending the completion of the appeals process.
In May, petitioner Amina Malik moved the Lahore High Court to try Sharif and former PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for “high treason”, alleging that Abbasi had leaked classified details from a National Security Committee meeting held after the publication of the interview. Almeida was also included in the list of defendants.
On Monday, the court issued arrest warrants for Almeida, demanding that he appear before the court for the next hearing to face a treason charge, his lawyer Ahmed Rauf told Al Jazeera.
“The DIG (Operations) [a senior police official] has been directed to ensure his presence on the next date of hearing,” Rauf said, adding that an arrest was unlikely.
On Tuesday, Almeida’s Dawn newspaper issued a statement saying that previous court summons had not been delivered, and that the journalist would attend the next hearing.
“Mr Almeida, like all Dawn staffers, is a law-abiding citizen, and sincerely believes in the rule of law. He is a seasoned journalist and has never shied away from such matters,” read the statement.
The court also ordered Almeida to be placed on a no-fly list, barring him from international travel.
Rights groups and journalists responded to the move by tweeting in support of Almeida, adopting the hashtags #IStandWithCyril and #JournalismIsNotACrime.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) termed the move to issue arrest warrants and to bar him from travel to be “an excessive measure”.
“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,” said HRCP Chairperson Mehdi Hasan.
Press freedom has been under increasing stress in Pakistan, where the military and intelligence services have carried out a sustained campaign of censoring reporting on security and politics, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“The military has quietly, but effectively, set restrictions on reporting: from barring access to regions including Baluchistan where there is armed separatism and religious extremism, to encouraging self-censorship through direct and indirect methods of intimidation, including calling editors to complain about coverage and even allegedly instigating violence against reporters,” CPJ said in detailed investigation into censorship in Pakistan released earlier this month.