London: Pakistani exiles living in London, who have been vocal against the country’s military regime, have been warned that their lives are at risk, British media has reported.
In a report by The Observer, writers Kiyya Baloch and Mark Townsend said that British security sources are understood to be concerned that Pakistan might be prepared to target individuals residing in the UK.
Pakistani dissidents, including rights activists, journalists, and members of the minority groups, have been warned by intelligence services across Europe. This comes a month after local media had reported that a man from east London was charged with conspiring to murder an exiled Pakistani blogger and political activist in the Netherlands.
If the Pakistani military had threatened exiles in the UK then this would be taken very seriously, said Mark Lyall Grant, former UK high commissioner to Pakistan.
Lyall Grant, who is UK’s former national security adviser (NSA), said, “If there is illegal pressure, in particular on journalists in the UK, then I would expect the law enforcement agencies and the British government to take notice of that and to make an appropriate legal and/or diplomatic response.”
Grant further said that any evidence that officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were intimidating people in the UK would not be ignored.
“If British nationals or residents in the UK acting lawfully are being harassed or threatened by the ISI, or anyone else, then the British government would certainly take an interest.”
The former NSA added this current development reflected a broader trend in countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and the Philippines among others, “becoming sufficiently emboldened to start silencing critics.”
According to the report by The Observer, civil rights groups in Pakistan have documented the erosion of press freedom with rising attacks on journalists, under Imran Khan’s tenure. The concern now is that Pakistan appears to be moving from suppressing criticism within its borders to targeting critics based overseas, the report said.
The prominent journalists who have received death threats or feel threatened living in the UK include Ayesha Siddiqa Pakistani political scientist and commentator based in London and Gul Bukhari, a British-Pakistani YouTuber and columnist.
This comes as a leaked Pakistani government memo last year had accused numerous Pakistani scribes based in the US and Europe of producing “anti-state content” for foreign media under pseudonyms.
“It named a journalist from a minority community living in exile in western Europe. Talking to the Observer on condition of anonymity, the journalist said he was also the subject of a warning notice from the intelligence branch of Pakistan’s army,” the report said.
An US-based non-governmental organization has expressed concern about the surveillance of exiled Pakistani journalists.
“We are aware of a number of cases that have not been made public. It’s widely understood that these types of threats could only come from Pakistan’s military or intelligence services,” said Steven Butler from Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).