ISLAMABAD: A local court in Attock district on Wednesday disposed of a plea by TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan against his arrest by Punjab police in a treason case, ruling that the matter did not fall within its jurisdiction and asking police to present the suspect before a magistrate in Rawalpindi.
Khan, an outspoken supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and of late a critic of the powerful military, was arrested Tuesday on the outskirts of Islamabad and produced before a district magistrate today, Wednesday, for remand.
Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister through a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April. He contends his removal was part of a US plot, a charge Washington denies.
Police registered a case against the TV anchor on June 29 under six different sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) along with four different sections of the Pakistan Penal Code, mainly relating to abetting, incitement and defamation.
“The case doesn’t fall in my jurisdiction. You may move the relevant forum,” the judge advised Khan’s legal team after a lengthy hearing.
Advocate Qadeer Janjua, a member of Imran Riaz Khan’s legal team, told Arab News the case included sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act, which the Attock judge was not authorized to hear.
“The police are now taking Imran Riaz to Rawalpindi court to present him before a relevant judge,” he said, adding that police were duty-bound to present an arrested person before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.
“We will try our best to secure the bail of Imran Riaz as we believe he is implicated in a false and fabricated case,” Janjua added.
Earlier in an over 95-minute-long hearing in Attock district court, the journalist’s counsel Mian Ali Ashfaq tried to establish through different judgments of the Supreme Court and by citing references from law that the arrest of his client was illegal.
The magistrate Yasir Tanveer questioned the public prosecutor and investigation officer in the case over the veracity of the evidence using which Khan was arrested.
Earlier in the day, the Islamabad High Court also disposed off Khan’s plea against his arrest, ruling that the case did not fall within its jurisdiction as he was arrested from Attock which falls in the precinct of the Lahore High Court. The Islamabad High Court had earlier barred the police from arresting Khan in different cases in the jurisdiction of the federal capital.
Malik Ahmad Khan, Punjab law minister, said around 20 separate cases had been registered against Khan for conspiring against and maligning state institutions.
“All evidence is available on digital media, he’ll have to face the trial,” he said at a news conference from the city of Multan.
The minister said Pakistan’s constitution guaranteed freedom of expression but with “reasonable restrictions” imposed by law against harming the security and integrity of the country and its foreign relations with friendly states.
He said the journalist was arrested from Attock in a case registered against him under section 121-A of Pakistan Penal Code (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting waging of war against Pakistan) for uploading a video on his YouTube channel with “objectionable content” regarding Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia. Islamabad and Riyadh are longtime allies.
“He has committed a cognizable offense, violated law and constitution and that’s why he has been arrested,” the law minister said.
Meanwhile, Pakistani opposition leaders and journalist unions have condemned Khan’s arrest and demanded the government ensure a fair legal process so that he may defend himself in court.
“There is an impression in sections of society that the government is trying to stifle the voices of those who oppose its policy,” the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is also widely believed the government is targeting media persons who are considered supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),” the statement said. “Such impression should be dispelled and the government should not be seen targeting a certain section of the journalist fraternity.”
The Rawalpindi-Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) condemned Khan’s arrest and urged the government to release him immediately.
“If the government fails to mend its ways,” RIUJ said, “a strong protest will be lodged.”