Pakistan probing journalists over Khashoggi photos in 'social media campaign': RSF

A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct 25, 2018.
A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct 25, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's interior ministry ordered investigations into six journalists who had posted pictures online of murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Monday (April 1).

RSF said it was "appalled" to learn of the investigations, adding that it "condemns this latest case of intimidation, especially given the Pakistani police's past behaviour towards dissident journalists".

The investigations had been ordered in a letter dated March 13 from the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency, part of the interior ministry, the group said in a statement.

AFP has been unable to independently verify the letter, which has been widely circulated on social media, and Pakistani officials have not responded to requests for comment.

According to RSF, the FIA letter named the journalists as part of what it called "a targeted social media campaign" against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman during his visit to Pakistan in February.

The campaign consisted of "repeatedly posting photos of Jamal Khashoggi... throughout the crown prince's visit", the watchdog said.

The visit came five months after the crown prince came under intense pressure following the murder of Mr Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mr Khashoggi had been a fierce critic of the prince, and his killing ignited a diplomatic crisis.

Pakistan, long allied with Saudi Arabia, was seeking much-needed investment during the visit.

The letter said posting Mr Khashoggi's pictures online "conveyed a very disrespectful message" towards the visiting crown prince.

Mr Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, said: "This kind of harassment of journalists, whose only crime is posting content online that displeases the authorities, is symptomatic of the treatment that the Pakistani political establishment reserves for dissidents."

"The six journalists targeted by these investigations by the FIA are known for being outspoken on social networks, which are now the only place where they can express themselves freely," he added.

Pakistan routinely ranks among the world's most dangerous countries for media workers.

Coverage critical of the country's powerful military is considered a red flag, with reporters at times detained, beaten and even killed for running afoul of the security establishment.

During his visit to Islamabad, the Saudi crown prince ending up signing investment deals worth up to US$20 billion (S$27 billion).