May 24, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
The Islamabad High Court and Lahore High Court have granted protective bail to news anchors Arshad Sharif, Moeed Pirzada, Sami Ibrahim and Imran Riaz Khan after a slew of sedition cases were registered in cities across the country.
The Lahore High Court granted protective bail to Imran Riaz Khan in two cases relating to incitement of mutiny n Nawabshah and Dadu districts of Sindh province till May 27 and May 31 respectively. According to Barrister Ali Ashfaq, counsel for Imran Riaz, a third case with similar charges was registered in a police station in Mansehra district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Arshad Sharif, Moeed Pirzada, and Sami Ibrahim had approached the Islamabad High Court for seeking protective bail in sedition cases registered against them across cities in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab. Hearing the petitions, Chief Justice Athar Minallah directed the federal interior secretary to submit a report about the total number of cases filed against the journalists across the country after obtaining information from all provinces.
The court also sought a reply from the Islamabad inspector general of police and the deputy commissioner on the next date of hearing on May 30. The chief justice directed both officials to ensure that custody of the three journalists was not handed over to provinces without seeking court permission if they were arrested in connection with cases filed there.
In a tweet on May 22, Arshad Sharif announced that a slew of cases was filed against him and fellow journalists Sami Ibrahim, Imran Riaz Khan and Sabir Shakir in various police stations across Pakistan. He shared images of first information reports (FIRs) that carried offences relating to abetment of mutiny (Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code), provocation with intent to cause riot (Section 153 PPC) and statements conducing to public mischief (Section 505 PPC). The charges carry sentences from five years to seven years.
Faisal Chaudhary, counsel for Arshad Sharif, told the high court that more than 10 FIRs had been registered against his client in several police stations in Balochistan, Sindh and Punjab over allegations of inciting mutiny and public mischief. Faisal Chaudhary said they could not go to far flung cities in Balochistan like Pishin, Qilla Saifullah and Chaman to seek bail from courts there in view of security threats there.
The chief justice inquired from Arshad Sharif about why the cases had been filed against him and other journalists.He said he had come to the court to seek protection of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Arshad Sharif said he had been receiving threats that he would be drag before courts across the country. “The threats included a warning that I would be abducted while going to a hearing of such a case in Pishin,” he said.
Similarly, Moeed Pirzada said he received threatening phone calls and had come immediately to court for seeking protection.
Saqib Bashir, president of the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association, told the court that Arshad Sharif, Sami Ibrahim and Imran Riaz Khan faced serious threats, adding that similar cases were filed previously against Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, owner of the Jang-Geo News media group. He said cases against these journalists were being filed across the country and it would be impossible for them to defend themselves in each case.
The counsels for the petitioners sought transferring all such cases to Islamabad but the deputy attorney general said that only Supreme Court had the jurisdiction to issue such directive. The high court granted protective bail to the journalists till May 30. Chief Justice Athar Minallah asked the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association to assist the court in the matter.
Barrister Ali Ashfaq, the counsel for Imran Riaz, said he would file a petition in Islamabad High Court tomorrow (May 24) to seek a similar relief granted to Arshad Sharif, Moeed Pirzada, and Sami Ibrahim. He said the Supreme Court in its 2019 Surraya Bibi case judgment had stated that only a single case could be registered on a single incident.
“All cases against Imran Riaz carry similar charges attributed to statements that he allegedly incited public mischief and mutiny among personnel of armed forces,” Barrister Ali Ashfaq explained. He said he would request the high court for issuing order to club all such cases as per the Supreme Court judgment.
Secondly, he said the so-called complainants in the FIRs were informer of a crime under the law. “Anybody can report to police about a crime but could not be deemed a complainant of the case,” he added. In his view, the State could be a complainant in the FIRs and not ordinary citizens who just reported it to the police.
Cases against journalists
Complainant Ashiq Ali, a dealer of banned tobacco product gutka, filed an FIR against Imran Riaz Khan with Dhabeji police station in Thatta. According to the FIR, Ashiq Ali claimed that he had heard Imran Riaz talking against the army and the institutions in a derogatory and provocative language on social media.
An FIR registered in Dadu against Arshad Sharif and Sabir Shakir, quoted the complainant Amir Ali as saying that both journalists used derogatory language about state institutions by drawing analogies to Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq. Amir Ali said the journalists were inciting people against the army and state institutions. Voicepk.net contacted the complainant on the contact listed on the FIR. A person who identified himself as Amir Ali confirmed that he had filed the FIR. He said he was a taxi driver upon when asked about his work. The person refused to talk further saying he was driving and would respond after a few minutes. However, the cell phone was switched off when Voicepk.net tried to contact several times.
Two FIRs were registered against Arshad Sharif in Hyderabad and Karachi. The complainant Tayyab Hussain in the Hyderabad FIR claimed that he was sitting with friends for tea at a restaurant when he viewed a programme on youtube on his cell phone. According to the FIR, Arshad Sharif used derogatory language about state institutions by drawing analogies to Mir Jafar and Mir Sadiq. He requested police to launch legal action against the anchor of ARY News.
A similar FIR was also recently registered against journalist Sami Ibrahim in Attock which accused the journalist of making statements abetting mutiny among soldiers. Complainant Akhtar Javaid advocate, a resident of Attock, said he had viewed “Canadian Pak News”, Ibrahim’s Youtube channel. He said that Ibrahim had hatched a conspiracy and spread rumours against state institutions in a vlog.
PFUJ calls for withdrawal of cases
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has condemned the registration of cases against anchorperson Arshad Sharif and senior journalist Sabir Shakir.
In a statement issued on May 22, the president of PFUJ Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary-general Nasir Zaidi said that the registration of such cases against working journalists is a bad precedent that amounts to stifling dissenting voices. They observed that such action would create an impression that the government is trying to settle the score with media through these cases.
Zulfiqar and Zaidi demanded that the cases be withdrawn immediately and the government must ensure that no media person is harassed or intimidated for having a dissenting point of view.
JDC ready to assist journalists
Usman Warraich, a member of the Pakistan Bar Council’s Journalists Defence Committee, said they were ready to defend journalists facing sedition cases in the country. “The JDC offers assistance to journalists regardless of their political leaning towards any political party,” Usman Warriach said. He said the PFUJ had already expressed concern over registration of cases against these journalists. “The JDC would represent the PFUJ which would approach courts to become a party as representatives of journalists in such cases, he added.