Pakistani authorities freed a prominent journalist from jail today and dropped sedition charges against him, nearly a month after his arrest.
Najam Sethi, editor of the weekly Friday News, was charged with anti-state activities in connection with a speech he made in India that was critical of the Pakistani government. Sethi's lawyer, Khalid Ranjha, quoted Attorney General Chaudhry Mohammed Farooq as saying the government had decided to drop the charges.
It was not immediately clear why Sethi was freed, although earlier statements from the army and Pakistani intelligence services said there was no evidence to support the charges.
International journalists' organizations, human rights groups and the State Department were among those expressing concern that the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif could be trying to intimidate the Pakistani press. Sethi's supporters said they believe he was targeted for arrest because his English-language magazine has been a critic of the government and has accused Sharif, his family and colleagues of corruption.
Sethi vowed today to continue to fight for press freedom. "No government can teach the press any lessons it doesn't want to learn. . . . One lesson the independent and free press will never learn is to give up its independence," he said. "They knew I had done no wrong, that I am a patriot."
Sethi said he was not physically abused while in custody. However, he said he was beaten at the time of his arrest on May 8. "I was hauled out of bed, beaten with gun butts, and I was beaten up and dragged for nearly 300 yards," he said. "I was really choking. . . . I thought I was going to die."