July 7, 2022
By Ahmed Saeed
LAHORE: Following orders for his release by an Attock civil judge on Thursday, July 7, journalist Imran Riaz Khan was again taken into custody, this time by the Chakwal police, outside the courtroom and transferred to Chakwal.
Currently, there are 18 cases registered against Riaz in different districts of Punjab, many of which contain the same text. Some of these first-information reports (FIRs) fail to mention the vlogs where he had allegedly made statements that they believe to be illegal.
According to the journalist’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, police from various districts are trying to nab Riaz. He added that his client has not been able to sleep over the last 60 hours because of the situation and that this is being intentionally done to torture him.
“Within 48 hours, he was taken from Islamabad to Attock, to Rawalpindi and then back to Attock. Now he is being taken to Chakwal,” he said. “They are not letting him sleep even for an hour or two, but he is braving this ordeal and will be stable soon.”
In addition to provisions under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, Riaz is also charged under Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for allegedly attempting to incite the public to revolt against the military. However, under Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C), a case under section 505 can only be registered by a competent officer of the Federal or Provincial Government.
None of the 18 FIRs against Riaz were lodged with the permission of any Federal or Provincial government or by a competent officer. Rather, the complainants in these cases are all ordinary citizens.
During the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime, when leaders of the now-ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) were booked in such cases, current Federal Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar had stated that the cases cannot be registered without the express approval of the Federal or Provincial Cabinet.
“It is wrong to curb political dissent [through such cases] and there are judgements by the Supreme Court and high courts in this regard that only Federal and Provincial governments have the privilege of exercising this option,” he told Voicepk.net in 2020. “[Ordinary citizens] do not have the right to decide whether an individual is a traitor. There is a legal process in place.”
PML-N-affiliated lawyer Farhad Ali Shah has also in the past condemned the practice of lodging such cases.
“The honourable courts have interpreted 196 of the Cr.P.C in various cases, such as the Javed Hashmi case and the Tehmina Daultana case. The FIRs in these cases were quashed on the basis that, under Section 44 of the Cr.P.C, it is outside of the relevant chapters for an individual to register such an FIR at a police station.”
When Voicepk.net spoke to some of the plaintiffs in the cases registered against Riaz, they provided that their conscience compelled them to pursue legal action against the journalist.
“The Army are our defenders, and he has maligned them,” he declared. “I am an ordinary citizen, and I love my country. I heeded the call of my conscience.”
It should be noted that one such plaintiff, Manzoor Qadir Bhindar, had filed a petition with a Gujranwala Additional District and Sessions Court judge to try journalists Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi for treason in June of last year.
Bhindar had told Voicepk.net that he approached the court as he objected to Mir’s mention of the Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s name in his speech. However when confronted by the fact that the senior journalist never uttered General Bajwa’s name, he conceded that he might have “erred a bit when writing the petition.”
Various political organizations have termed the FIRs against Imran Riaz an attack on freedom of expression, and advised the current political leadership to learn from the past and refrain from such recourse.