September 12th, 2020

By Rehan Piracha


The ‘treason’ and cybercrime cases against journalists Absar Alam and Bilal Farooqi have evoked strong condemnation from the press, activists, and human rights organizations as both journalists said those behind such intimidatory acts were doing no service to society and the country.

Former PEMRA chief and journalist Absar Alam called the case against him a work of a fascist regime that was trampling the fundamental right to freedom of expression. He said there had been nothing in his tweets that could have been termed derogatory and defamatory towards the Pakistan military and the Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said it was the right of every citizen to express his views, adding that extraordinary support from all sections he received in the case had shown that the public was not ready to let go of their right to free speech.

Alam said that the Dina (Jehlum) police have neither approached nor provided any evidence or proofs against him in the sedition case. “I have received nothing on the case from the police. Neither I have been given the first information report nor proofs of tweets that I made. It was only through social media that I got a copy of the FIR which I verified to be true.”

The former PEMRA chief said he did not know the complainant Naveed Ahmed who according to the FIR was president of the local chapter of the Insaf Lawyers Forum. He said that the complainant might have used his connection in the government to have the case registered which was difficult given the serious offenses listed in it. He said lawyers and bar officials have assured him of their full support and many of whom have offered to defend him in the case. Alam pointed out that nobody from the government side has contacted him officially yet. “Some people in the government though called me privately to express their concern.”

Alam appeared undeterred from the police case saying nothing would stop him from expressing what he believes to be right. “It’s my right to question assets amassed by a state functionary if the assets were made during his term of service.”

On the other hand, journalist Bilal Farooqi said the complainant in the case was an unknown person.

“The FIR was registered by an unknown person. I can only say that whosoever is doing this, is not doing a service to the nation and society,” he was speaking outside a courtroom after attending a bail hearing in the case before a magistrate.

Farooqi appeared in the court of the Judicial Magistrate South. The court reprimanded police officials for the insertion of incorrect sections in the FIR. The court questioned on how and whose orders the police officials register complaints, adding that if a correct FIR was not submitted next time, police officials would be sent to jail. The magistrate told police to submit a report on the case as per law, adding that the court would not allow direct inclusion of sections from the cybercrime law. The court would have no objection if the FIA pursued the case on its own, the judge observed.

According to Jibran Nasir, the case was another instance of media suppression adding that Bilal Farooqi was charged under PPC 500 and 505 which can be done without an order of the provincial or federal government or authorized officer.

Who are the complainants?

The complaint against Absar Alam was lodged by Chaudhary Naveed Ahmed, who introduced himself as president of Insaf Lawyers, at Dina police station in Jhelum district. The FIR was registered on September 11.

“Absar Alam has used highly offensive language against Pakistan’s military and Prime Minister Imran Khan on twitter and social media. That constitutes the offense of treason. Proofs as photocopies are attached with the application,” the complainant states in the FIR.

“For the first time in the country’s history, the nation has gotten an honest prime minister who is working day and night to take the country out of crises,” Naveed Ahmed says in his complaint, adding that Absar Alam has criticized and ‘used foul language against the prime minister’.

“Absar Alam is working with the enemies to weaken the foundations of the country. He has committed offenses under Section 131, 124A, 505, 499 of Pakistan Penal Code, section 20 of Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, and High Treason under Section (Article) 6 of the Constitution.”

Sikandar Azam, sub-inspector, the investigation officer of the case, said he had just registered the FIR and no instructions have been received on how to proceed with the investigations.

He said such cases were routine and had been registered across the province. Asked whether they have contacted Absar Alam, he said senior officials have yet not given any instructions if the former Pemra chief will be called to the police station or if a police party will go to Islamabad to investigate him.

Asked about the evidence submitted with the FIR, Azam said he had no idea about what evidence was provided by the complainant as the FIR had been sealed. Complainant Naveed Ahmed did not respond to requests for sharing evidence listed in his complaint.

The complainant in Bilal Farooqi is Javed Khan, who in the FIR is said to be a machine operator at a factory in Landhi.

“On September 9, I had gone to a fresh fruit juice vendor’s shop in Defence when at around 12 pm I came across offensive content on the timelines of Facebook and Twitter IDs of Bilal Farooqi on Pakistani army and sectarian hatred,” Javed Khan explains in the FIR on how he came to know of the offensive content on the timelines. “Bilal Farooqi often shares such provocative content and pictures. I will provide details of which in a separate packet,” Javed Khan adds. “In his posts, Bilal Farooqi has maligned Pakistan Army and enemies of the state could use these posts for their nefarious designs.”

The complainant then requests lodging a report under sections 500 and 505 of PPC and Sections 11 and 20 of PECA. Javed Khan’s cell phone contact listed on the FIR was switched off when tried to contact him about the case.

Bilal Farooqi, who works at the Express Tribune, was arrested from his home in DHA by Defence police on Friday evening. He was released on bail in the early hours of Saturday on personal surety after the intervention of the provincial government.

Condemnation and protests

The Young Journalists of Pakistan staged a protest outside Karachi press club in support of Bilal Farooqi. The demonstrators called upon media professionals to join hands in protesting intimidation and threats to journalists and media professionals.

In a statement, the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) said that ‘the arrest of Bilal was part of a nefarious and concerted campaign to gag free and independent voices’.

HRCP condemned the filing of a sedition case against a renowned journalist and former chairman AbsarAlam.” We believe this is yet another attempt by the government to silence any voices of dissent and curb freedom of expression.”

The HRCP also said it was alarmed by the arrest of journalist Bilal Farooqui in Karachi. “We demand an impartial inquiry into the matter and his immediate release.”

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has condemned the arrest of Bilal Farooqi and registration of a sedition case against former PEMRA Chairman Absar Alam. They said the allegations against the two are baseless and demanded the immediate release of Farooqi along with the withdrawal of FIRs.

In a statement, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi said this is proof of the high-handedness of authorities, who just want to suppress the media.

The PFUJ has called for the immediate withdrawal of the case against Farooqi, which has allegedly been lodged by an unknown factory worker.
While condemning the FIR against a senior journalist and former PEMRA chairman Absar Alam, the PFUJ said that such cases seem to be an agenda being followed by the government. They have urged the government to withdraw the FIR against Absar Alam, registered in Dina town of Jhelum. If the cases are not withdrawn, the only option left with us will be to call a strike and protest across the country which will further tarnish the image of the country, they said.

In a tweet, the Committee to Protect Journalists Asia chapter expressed deep concern about the reported arrest of journalist Bilal Farooqi.