RSF condemns threats to Hamza Azhar Salam by Bahria Town

ISLAMABAD: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the threats to The Pakistan Daily’s Editor Hamza Azhar Salam by Bahria Town.

In a press release, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned a Pakistani businessman’s “unacceptable” threats against a newspaper editor in response to a story implicating him in a prominent corruption scandal and calls on Pakistan’s government to guarantee the journalist’s safety.

“This type of threat is absolutely unacceptable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Regardless of their power and the brutality of the methods they otherwise employ, the business community cannot use threats to block the revelation of matters that are of major interest to the citizens of Pakistan. We call on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Hamza Azhar Salam is protected and to guarantee respect for the rule of law.”

According to RSF, the story published by Salam under his own by-line provided evidence that Farah Gogi, a close friend of then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife, flew to Dubai on 29 April 2019 aboard a plane owned by Bahria Town, Riaz’s construction company. The timing of the trip is important because it coincided with the sale in Dubai of a diamond jewellery set that Khan had received from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Imran Khan is said to have sold the jewellery for two million dollars in violation of regulations stipulating that gifts received by government representatives from foreign leaders belong to the state.

The alleged violation has been used by the Election Commission of Pakistan as grounds for banning Khan from running for public office for five years.

While speaking to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Hamza Azhar said, “The implication of my story” was that Bahria Town CEO Malik Riaz “actively facilitated an act of corruption by Farah Gogi that ultimately benefited then Prime Minister Imran Khan and his family.”

“Malik Riaz’s family has a history of using armed goons to intimidate people. I have been advised to change residence frequently and to limit my contact with the outside world. I’m still trying to lead a normal life, but I live in fear because of the threats from Bahria Town,” Salam told RSF.

Speaking to The Pakistan Daily, Hamza Azhar Salam said, “I am grateful to RSF for highlighting my plight since most times, threats to journalists by powerful actors are ignored.

“I hope international attention will prevent Malik Riaz’s representatives from carrying out any violence. We all remember what happened to Uzma Khan who was assaulted in her own home by Malik Riaz’s daughters’ guards,” he added.

It is to be mentioned here that, the Bahria Town representative issued threats of dire consequences to journalist Hamza Azhar Salam for reporting on Farah Gogi’s travel history.

In the threatening phone call, the representative warned Salam of dire consequences and a route “alternate to legal routes” if he did not delete certain tweets.

“I offered to publish Bahria Town’s complete version, however, the representative did not seem interested in a reasonable conversation and proceeded to issue threats to my life,” Hamza Azhar Salam told The Pakistan Daily minutes after the threatening call.

The representative held that the document Hamza Azhar Salam tweeted was fake however, they were not willing to provide any written denial or speak on the record.

“At first, the representative threatened me of legal consequences but then they started issuing other threats which instilled a fear for my life and safety due to Malik Riaz’s power,” Salam said.

He added: “Of course, I am afraid of Malik Riaz and Bahria Town because of their influence but how can I compromise my journalistic duty only because certain business people are drunk on power?”

Earlier, Farah Gogi had denied travelling to the UAE in April 2019, however, sources revealed to The Pakistan Daily that Farah may have used a passport issued by the Republic of Vanuatu and skipped immigration in Pakistan in her travels abroad.

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