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Pakistani journalist defiant after threats from state intelligence services

JOURNALISTS raised concerns today after exiled Pakistani writer Gul Bukhari, a critic of her country’s powerful military, was threatened by intelligence services.

The Coalition for Women in Journalism said the threat “sets a dangerous precedent for women journalists” after it was reported that charges had been brought in Pakistan against Ms Bukhari under cyber-crime and anti-terror laws.

Ms Bukhar — who is living in Britain — said she was first made aware of the threats when a friend in Pakistan sent her screenshots of the ARY media channel reporting that she was to be charged.

The news organisation said that her properties in Pakistan would be seized and that she would be extradited by Interpol to face trial after being summoned by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency.

According to the report, she been asked to account for “nefarious statements” allegedly defaming Pakistan’s state institutions and warned that if she fails to do so, “terrorism charges” could be filed against her.

Ms Bukhari said she had not received such a notice and added that she was “bewildered and shocked by the news.”

“The breaking news on ARY portrayed me as a criminal and absconder. It was very defamatory in nature. It was also designed to instill fear in me — saying if I didn’t respond/return I’d be slapped with terror charges and hauled over [there] through Interpol,” she said.

The journalist is a well-known critic of Pakistan’s military. In June 2018 she was abducted by masked assailants in army uniforms on her way to a local TV station in Lahore. She was released after a few hours. Ms Bukhari subsequently fled the country and has been based in Britain since December that year.

She said the Pakistani government had written to “10 Downing Street, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, and to the local police” in a bid to get her sent back for trial.

She said she feared for her safety, accusing the “inter-services intelligence wing of the Pakistan embassy” in Britain of trying to find her address.

The Coalition for Women in Journalism said that while the use of legal tactics to silence journalists is not new to Pakistan, “such cases are not common for women journalists.

“The state in Pakistan is using dangerous tools to silence dissidents, and this very attempt against Gul only brings the state’s insecurities to the forefront,” it said.

Ms Bhukari remained defiant, saying: “My message to them is this: Don’t threaten me. Talk to me. Threats work only on cowards.”

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