Missing for four months, prominent Pakistani TV anchor returns home

ISLAMABAD (Monitoring Desk) : Pakistani anchorperson and YouTuber Imran Riaz Khan has been “safely recovered,” Sialkot Police confirmed on Monday, four months after the journalist was arrested and his whereabouts remained unknown following a nationwide crackdown against supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan. 

The TV anchor, widely perceived to be sympathetic to ex-PM Imran Khan, was arrested from Sialkot airport on May 11, according to his lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq, after the violent protests of May 9 which saw angry Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters torch government buildings and attack military installations across the country.

His lawyer told media Khan was arrested under the Maintenance of Public Order (PMO) ordinance, under which authorities can arrest a person to maintain public order and extend the period of such detention for a time period not exceeding six months at a time.

According to Ashfaq, Khan was taken to Cantt police station after his arrest and later to the Sialkot prison. On May 15, a law officer told a court that Khan was released from jail after an undertaking in writing was taken from him. Following that, his whereabouts remained unknown for four months. 

Khan’s father Muhammad Riaz lodged a case of alleged abduction of his son at the Sialkot Civil Lines police against “unidentified persons” and police officials and subsequently filed a petition at the Lahore High Court for his son’s recovery. During a hearing of the petition, the LHC gave the Punjab police chief one “last opportunity” to recover the missing anchor. 

“Journalist/Anchor Mr.Imran Riaz Khan has been safely recovered,” Sialkot Police wrote on Twitter. “He is now with his family.”

Ashfaq also confirmed that the anchorperson had been recovered. 

“Despite the unspeakable circumstances, Allah Almighty showed us this best day,” Ashfaq wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “At the moment, I can only thank Him profusely.”

Ashfaq said it took a lot of time to recover Khan due to a “weak” judiciary and currently, an “ineffective constitution.” 

Pakistan has a controversial record when it comes to media freedom and safety of journalists. Media personnel have frequently complained of being targeted by state authorities for their work while some of them have also suffered attacks, and others have left the country citing threats to their life. 

The South Asian country was ranked 150 in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF, an improvement of seven places in rank from the year before.

Global rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Border, have recurrently expressed concern over shrinking media freedom in Pakistan in recent years.

The issue of Pakistan’s media freedom gained significance after October 2022 when prominent Pakistani TV anchor Arshad Sharif, also widely considered to be pro-Imran Khan, was shot dead in Kenya. 

Both Khan and Sharif faced different court cases along with their other colleagues.