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Pakistan 26 August 2002

Machinations against Pakistani journalist living in the United States

On 5 September, Pakistani police arrested Imran Khan, son of the journalist’s uncle, after a judge annulled his release on bail. Asif Khan is still free, but he must check in at the local police station every morning and evening.

29.8.02 — Police freed Asif Khan today but the uncle of journalist Shaheen Sehbai may be questioned by police again.

Asif Khan, the uncle of South Asia Tribune editor Shaheen Sehbai, was arrested by the Rawalpindi police on 27 August for being "under the influence of alcohol". He is the father of Imran Khan, a teenager whose name appears as Sehbai’s accomplice in the complaint filed with the police by an army employee. Meanwhile, secret service agents have been putting pressure on Pakistan’s main news media not to mention the government’s machinations against the Washington-based Sehbai.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today protested against a complaint that was filed with the Rawalpindi police by a military employee on 21 August against journalist Shaheen Sehbai, editor of the online newspaper South Asia Tribune, who left Pakistan in March 2002 following alleged "government pressure" and now lives in the United States. The complaint accuses Sehbai of a "dacoity" (burglary) in Pakistan in February 2001.

"The harassment of Shaheen Sehbai is reaching proportions bordering on the ridiculous", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to federal Interior Minister Moin-ud-Din Haider. "It is high time for the Pakistani government to stop responding with intimidation or defamation against those who exercise their right to inform", the letter said. It called on the authorities to dismiss the complaint, which is tantamount to a sentence of indefinite banishment abroad.

The person who filed the complaint with the Rawalpindi police on 21 August is Khalid Hijazi, an employee of the army headquarters who is the former husband of a cousin of Sehbai. The complaint alleges that Sehbai carried out an "armed robbery" in his home on 22 February 2001.

Sehbai left Pakistan in March 2002 after resigning as editor with the English-language daily newspaper The News. At that time, Reporters Without Borders had called on the information minister to conduct an enquiry into the "government pressure" that had led Sehbai to resign. In July, Sehbai launched an online investigative newspaper in Washington called the South Asia Tribune (, in which he has reported allegations of corruption and human rights violations by the Musharraf government.

Sehbai told Reporters Without Borders that this burglary accusation was a "complete fabrication" by the military. He reported that police searched the home of several of his family members on 21 August (the day the complaint was filed). He said members of his family had also been harassed by men in uniform.

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