10th October 2020
by Rehan Piracha
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has stopped the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from taking any action against a journalist over his allegedly ‘objectionable’ articles and posts on social media.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah has summoned the inquiry officer of the FIA’s Cybercrime Wing on Oct 12, along with the record against the journalist, Rana Mohammad Arshad (Sulahri). Justice Minallah was hearing a petition filed by the journalist.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Sulahri said that he had received a call from an FIA official on September 24, “The FIA official told me they had received an application against me based on my articles and social media activities.” According to the FIA official, an unnamed applicant had accused Sulahri of posting content against the State.
Sulahri says he informed fellow journalists Raza Rumi, Murtaza Solangi, Matiullah Jan, Saboor Syed and Asif Ali Syed of Rawalpindi Union of Journalists about the call from the FIA official. “I also approached the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and human rights organisations,” he adds.
Sulahri says he received a notice from the agency summoning him to the FIA office in Islamabad on September 30th. However strangely he received that notice a day later on the 1st of October, while even the postal stamp on the envelope of the FIA notice showed the date of October 1. Perplexed about why would the FIA will send out a notice a day later of when he was supposed to appear, Sulahri consulted his fellow journalists and lawyers from the Pakistan Bar Council’s Journalists Defence Committee, who suggested that he should move court against the FIA.
On October 7, Sulahri received another call from a FIA official who in a very threatening tone told him to report to their office. “The official told me to come immediately to their office or else they will come to pick me up,” Sulahri says, recalling the phone conversation. After 15 minutes of the call, FIA officials came to Sulahri’s house asking for his whereabouts, however he was not at home.
Sulahri says that after consulting his lawyers he filed a writ petition before the Islamabad High Court. “On October 8, my lawyers along with Matiullah Jan and other journalists appeared before IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, during hearing of the writ petition,” he says.
NO INFORMATION GIVEN BY FIA OF COMPLAINTS AGAINST SULAHRI
Sulahri says the IHC Chief Justice ordered that the FIA should not take any action against him and summoned FIA officials with the record on October 12. He says his family was very tense and frightened due to the calls made by the FIA. “I have not been informed about the details of the complaint and of any charges till now,” he says, adding the details will come out when the FIA officials produce a record against him before the court on October 12. “I am thankful to all journalists and activists for their support and assistance,” he adds.
“The IHC order came as a great relief for me and my family. I have been repeatedly harassed through calls. Uptil now, I have not been informed about the complaintS and of any charges. The details will be given before the court on Oct 12 when the FIA officials produce record against me. I am thankful to all journalists and activists for supporting and assisting me.”
A panel of lawyers formed by the Pakistan Bar Council comprising Mohammad Sajid Tanoli, Usman Warriach and Babar Hayat Samor and representing the journalist appeared before the court. The counsel informed the court that the petitioner was a physically challenged person and is working as a journalist. They asserted that because of opinions and views expressed by the petitioner on social media, he was being harassed by the FIA’s Cybercrime Wing.
FIA HAS NO AUTHORITY TO RAID RESIDENCE UNTIL PERSON IS ACCUSED
Usman Warriach, one of Sulahri’s lawyers, says the FIA has served his client a notice which had passed its due date. Warriach terms the notice mala fide due to its vague content. The lawyer says under the law the FIA has no authority to raid the residence of a person who was not been accused yet.
In his order, Justice Minallah observed: “The profession of the petitioner, fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, and the manner in which the respondents [FIA] have so far proceeded in this case, prima facie, raises questions of public importance, particularly abuse of power under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.”
The court directed the registrar office to issue notices to the FIA authorities. “The officer who has been entrusted [with] inquiry of the case is directed to appear on the next date fixed and explain under what authority of law the undated notice was issued followed by raiding the house of the petitioner as has been alleged,” the court order said. “The officer shall also explain why the alleged commission and omission on part of the petitioner were not disclosed in the undated notice.”
The court admitted the petition for regular hearing, issued notices to the FIA authorities and directed that “no adverse action shall be taken against the petitioner”. It adjourned the hearing till October 12.