The disappearance of journalist and political commentator Imran Riaz Khan has sparked concerns about press freedom and raised questions about the state of media safety in Pakistan. Khan, a controversial figure with a significant online following, hasn’t been seen since a video emerged on social media showing him being escorted out of Sialkot International Airport by a group of police officers nearly two weeks ago.
The incident occurred on May 11, when Khan was reportedly on his way to Oman after deciding to leave Pakistan following a raid on his house in Lahore by the police. His younger brother, Usman Riaz Khan, believes that his brother’s arrest was a result of his truthful and critical commentary on political affairs, which gained him a substantial following on YouTube.
While the family was initially informed by sources within the Punjab police that Khan had been taken to the police station after his arrest at the airport, they later received contradictory information. The police claimed to have released him that same night and stated that he left with a group of unknown individuals, leaving his whereabouts unknown. However, Khan’s father filed an official complaint alleging that CCTV footage from the police station showed his son being “kidnapped” by masked men after his release.
The case has taken a troubling turn with conflicting statements from government officials. Inspector General of the Punjab Police Usman Anwar denied that Khan was in police custody and declined to comment further due to the ongoing legal proceedings. Interim Information Minister for Punjab Amir Mir echoed the denial, stating that Khan was not with the police. However, the contradictory statements have raised doubts about the transparency and accountability of the authorities involved.
Imran Riaz Khan’s disappearance has drawn attention to the issue of press freedom in Pakistan. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global media freedom organization, condemned the incident and suggested the involvement of Pakistan’s spy agencies. They called on Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government to ensure respect for the rule of law and demanded that Khan be produced in court or released.
The controversy surrounding Imran Riaz Khan stems from his affiliation with former Prime Minister Imran Khan (no relation) and his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Khan had previously expressed support for the military and its actions against journalists but later reversed his stance. He faced previous arrests on charges of sedition, which were subsequently dropped, adding to the complex backdrop of his current disappearance.
The disappearance of Imran Riaz Khan underscores the fragile state of media freedom and safety in Pakistan. Journalists in the country have long faced threats, attacks, and intimidation, with state authorities often implicated in these incidents. Pakistan ranked 150th out of 180 countries in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF, highlighting the challenges faced by media professionals in the country.
As the search for Imran Riaz Khan continues, concerns grow about the state of press freedom and the need for accountability in Pakistan. Journalists and activists have called on the government to take immediate action and ensure that Khan’s disappearance is thoroughly investigated, regardless of his political affiliations. The spotlight is now on the authorities to provide answers and uphold the principles of justice and media freedom in the country.