14 February 2023
By Rehan Piracha
In another sedition case against opposition parliamentarians, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has charged former finance minister Shaukat Tarin with allegedly attempting to “derail a deal” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) based on a leaked audio conversation between him and then finance ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.
In the First Information Report (FIR) lodged with the Cyber Crime Reporting Centre in Islamabad on February 13, the agency said an enquiry concluded that former finance minister Shaukat Tarin had tried to influence sitting provincial ministers of finance of Punjab and KP i.e. Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra and Muhammad Mohsin Khan Leghari against the ongoing talks between the government and the IMF.
According to news reports, the PTI senator is currently on a visit to the United States. “Consequent upon the conclusion of enquiry No. 757/2022 of FIA, Cyber Crime Reporting Centre, Islamabad, it transpired that the accused Syed Shaukat Fayaz Ahmed Tareen…with mala fide intentions and ulterior motives, induced sitting provincial ministers of finance of Punjab and KP i.e. Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra and Muhammad Mohsin Khan Leghari,” the FIR read. The complaint was lodged by Arshad Mehmood, a resident of Rawalpindi.
According to the FIR, the agency had analysed two audio clips of the former finance minister’s telephonic conversation with the provincial ministers, which had gone viral on social media. “The accused Shaukat Tarin clearly asked the finance ministers to write letters stating their respective ministries will not be returning the surplus budget to the federal government which will critically affect the then ongoing talks between the government and the IMF,” the FIR stated.
The FIR said Tarin could not provide satisfactory answers which implied that the accused was hiding the facts and lying about his intentions.
“Such mischievous acts may lead to disrupting the public tranquility and create an ill will among pillars of state and likely to cause a sense of fear, alarm, and intimidation to every citizen of state due to economic situation of Pakistan, thus, the alleged conversation is considered as an act of sedition against the State,” the FIR read. Tarin was charged with offences relating to Section 20 (malicious code) of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 read with sections 124-A (sedition) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
“Competent authority has accorded the permission for registration of FIR so the case is registered. Role of other involved persons, if any, will be thrashed out during the investigation,” the FIR said.
A day earlier, Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed that the government had given permission to the FIA to arrest PTI Senator Shaukat Tarin in the case. PTI senators lodged a strong protest during the session of the upper house on February 13. Leader of the opposition, Dr Shahzad Wasim, termed the case against Tarin a part of a witch-hunt. In his reply, Minister of State for Law and Justice Shahadat Awan said the FIA had completed an inquiry against Tarin and had sought permission from the ministry concerned in line with the provisions of the FIA Act. “If this is true, a stringent punishment should be awarded to him,” Awan said while alluding to Tarin’s alleged leaked audio conversation with the provincial ministers.
Call to abolish colonial-era sedition law
Activists and politicians have called for the abolishment of colonial-era sedition charges. In a statement last month, PPP Senator Mian Raza Rabbani said that the arrest of Fawad Chaudhry under the allegation of Section 124A, PPC, 1860, for sedition was ‘unwarranted’. The former senate chairman called on the federal government to put up his bill for the deletion of section 124A PPC before the National Assembly. The said bill has deliberately been lost in the National Assembly after being passed by the Senate in July 2021.
The federal government had defended the sedition provision during the hearing of a petition in the Lahore High Court, challenging the vires of Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 is inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights provided under articles, 9,14,15,16,17, 19 and 19-A of Constitution.