RAWALPINDI: A Rawalpindi court on Wednesday ordered journalist Imran Riaz Khan to be produced in a local court in Attock and instructed that charges framed against him under sections of the Prevention Of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 be repealed.
Imran was arrested by the Attock police on Tuesday night on the outskirts of Islamabad as he was headed to the federal capital to acquire pre-arrest bail from the IHC in a treason case registered against him.
Sources in the police department said that a contingent of the Attock police supported by a team of the Elite Force took the journalist into custody and moved him to the Attock City Police Station.
Imran was brought to the Rawalpindi Judicial Complex today in the court of Judicial Magistrate Muhammad Pervaiz Khan, who was presiding over a hearing for a petition filed by the journalist against his arrest.
According to the court order Malik Sikandar, an assistant director (legal) of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), informed the judge that the offences mentioned in the first information report against Imran were not “actually made out” and the police had wrongly lodged the FIR regarding the PECA sections.
Sikandar further informed the court that no offence had been committed according to the PECA sections and the FIA did not have the privilege to investigate the matter further.
The order said that after considering Sikandar’s opinion, the court did not have the jurisdiction to entertain the matter of Imran’s remand and directed the investigating officer to produce the journalist before a relevant court in Attock.
Earlier during the court hearing, the magistrate said the case was merited in his court since he was a judge on cases pertaining to the FIA.
Imran’s counsel, Mian Ali Ashfaq, said the journalist’s arms license and bulletproof vehicle license were cancelled. He said the Islamabad High Court (IHC) had granted protective bail to Imran and yet, the journalist was arrested by Attock police at Islamabad Toll Plaza last night.
He said the toll plaza was at the border between Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
It must be mentioned here that the Lahore High Court had accepted journalist Imran’s plea for protective bail in May after multiple sedition cases were registered against him.
Ashfaq continued that a petition was filed in the IHC last night against the arrest and Imran was presented at a local Attock court earlier today.
The counsel said during the case hearing in Attock, the judge had remarked how could he preside over it when there were PECA sections involved. Ashfaq added that the judge had questioned the police on how they could charge the PECA sections.
Ashfaq also lashed out at the petitioner of the FIR in Attock, asking who had appointed him as the army’s spokesman. “Questioning army policies is not anti-nationalism at all,” he said, adding that if the military had a problem with Imran, then they would have registered a case themselves as they did against activist and lawyer Imaan Mazari.
Subsequently, the judicial magistrate questioned the police about how Imran could be presented before him. “How can I hear the case when this FIR can’t even be brought up before me?” the judge questioned.
Ashfaq said the Attock court had sent them to the judicial magistrate’s court, saying that it had the jurisdiction to hear the case. “Is there anyone who wants to take this case forward?” he questioned.
The lawyer requested the court to dismiss the case against Imran.
Police said a case was registered against the journalist at Attock City Police Station on June 25 under sections 505-1(C) (statements conducing to public mischief with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community), 505 (2) (whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to create or promote feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities), 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), and 109 (punishment of abetment if the Act abetted committed In consequence and where no express provision is made for its punishment) of the Pakistan Penal Code and six different PECA sections.
Later, PTI’s Farrukh Habib shared a video of the journalist at the time of his arrest wherein he could be seen sitting in his car surrounded by police officials. “You have taken my [bulletproof] car and weapons, registered 20 FIRs against me, now you want to arrest me as well, go ahead and arrest me,” he said defiantly as he got out of the car to surrender.
Immediately after the incident was reported, a contempt petition was filed by Imran’s legal team in the IHC naming the police chiefs of Islamabad and Punjab as respondents. Taking late-night action, Justice Athar Minallah had issued notices to the Islamabad police chief and chief commissioner and told them to appear before the high court.
During the hearing today, Imran’s counsel contended that his client was arrested from the Islamabad Toll Plaza. “In the LHC, the police had given us a report which said 17 cases were registered against Riaz.
“I have separately also filed a contempt petition in the LHC,” he said. “But the court was never told about the FIR booked last night.”
Here, Justice Minallah remarked that every court had its own jurisdiction and the LHC could look into this matter. “The arrest of Imran Riaz Khan in Attock does not fall under the jurisdiction of this court,” he said, continuing that the IHC couldn’t investigate issues pertaining to Punjab.
The journalist’s counsel, however, argued that the court’s orders, barring any arrests, had been violated. He also stated that the Islamabad police, not Punjab’s, had arrested Imran.
“The court had talked about arrests in Islamabad. Imran was arrested outside the court’s jurisdiction,” the IHC chief justice reiterated, adding that if the LHC ruled that the arrests were made in Islamabad, “you can bring the order here”.
The court, subsequently, disposed of the petition and instructed the journalist to approach the LHC as it would be in his “best interest”.
Earlier, Imran had filed two petitions with the LHC through his lawyer and obtained pre-arrest bails.
In a recent video on his Youtube channel, the journalist had directly addressed Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and alleged that he was threatened after asking questions from military sources about the country’s current political and economic situation.
Over the past few months, several cases have been lodged against pro-PTI senior journalists including Khan, Arshad Sharif and Sabir Shakir for allegedly spreading hate against army and state institutions.
In a tweet today, Amnesty International South Asia took notice of the trend and urged authorities to “stop punishing dissenting voices”.
“Amnesty International is alarmed by news of journalist Imran Riaz Khan’s arrest and urges authorities to stop punishing dissenting voices, as has been a worrying trend in Pakistan for many years,” it said.
The organisation highlighted that in the past few weeks, journalists had disappeared, faced politically motivated charges and even violently attacked for simply doing their job. “Journalism is not a crime, and must be stopped being treated as such,” it added.
In a tweet today, former prime minister Imran Khan urged the public to protest against the journalist’s arrest and the “ongoing violence and targeting of journalists”.
“All those who support democracy and the right to freedom of expression as enshrined in our Constitution must come out and protest against arrest of Imran Riaz Khan and ongoing violence and targeting of journalists including Ayaz Amir and many others just to instil fear and silence critical voices,” he said.
The PTI chairman added that unless “we all unite and stand up against this fascism it will be the end of democracy and freedom in Pakistan”.
Separately, at a press conference later in the day, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said the “kidnapping” of the journalist and Sindh Opposition Leader Haleem Adil Sheikh pointed towards a “rise of fascism” in the country.
“As Imran Khan said before, this has never before been witnessed, even during martial law,” he said while talking to the media in Islamabad alongside Shireen Mazari. He also questioned the role of the Rangers in these incidents, calling on them to “work according to the law”.
He went on to say that the current impression being given was that police were mere “puppets”, adding: “I think the Rangers owe us an explanation.”
Chaudhry said that pictures that had surfaced after Imran’s arrest suggested he had been subjected to violence, which he termed “unacceptable”. He urged the nation to join the PTI and come out on the streets against these “fascist moves”.