ISLAMABAD: As a judicial magistrate of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Wednesday returned the matter of TV anchor and YouTuber Imran Riaz Khan’s remand to a judicial magistrate in Attock and the Islamabad High Court disposed of his contempt plea over the issue of jurisdiction, a Senate standing committee took notice of his detention and sought a detailed report from the Ministry of Human Rights within 24 hours.
Mr Riaz, who was booked by Attock police on June 25 under sections 505-1(C), 505 (2), 501, 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code and six other charges under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act-2016 (Peca), was arrested on July 5 near the Islamabad Toll Plaza as he headed to the federal capital to appear before the IHC in connection with a hearing on his petitions seeking pre-arrest bail. Soon after the arrest, his counsel filed a contempt petition before the IHC late on Tuesday night.
Also on Wednesday, chairmen of at least two standing committees of the upper house also took notice of the arrest of the TV anchor.
In addition, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told a presser that the government was against the curbing freedom of expression, but added that this freedom was not a licence to make allegations without any evidence.
Two Senate panels take notice of Imran Riaz’s arrest; Rana Sana says no one has licence to make unverified allegations
“Are you a rented journalist that you have started attacking us without verifying? What benefits are you gaining out of it?” he asked and urged the journalist fraternity to take notice of such behaviour.
Earlier in Attock, when the journalist was produced before the court of civil judge Yasir Tanveer, he remained handcuffed while lawyers demanded some time for arguments. Granting the request, the court was adjourned till 2pm. PTI MNA Tahir Sadiq was also present inside the courtroom, while strict security measures were in place.
Later when the hearing resumed, arguments were exchanged between the state counsel and defence counsel Mian Ali Ashfaque, who questioned the absence of the complainant, Malik Mureed Abbas. However, the prosecutor expressed his ignorance when the judge asked for the whereabouts of the complainant.
The prosecutors also failed to satisfy the judge when asked what derogatory words the YouTuber had used against institutions and why the relevant institution had not lodged an FIR against him. The court in its order directed the police to produce him before the judicial magistrate of the FIA, as charges were also filed against him under Peca, which was not within jurisdiction of the Attock civil court.
Mr Riaz’s counsel later told reporters the proceedings would be conducted in the FIA court of Rawalpindi.
However, the FIA magistrate Pervaiz Khan returned the matter of his remand to a judicial magistrate in Attock with the observation that the case did not come under the ambit of Peca and therefore Imran Riaz should be produced before the competent court in whose jurisdiction the FIR had been registered. Police was then directed to produce him before the judicial magistrate of Attock on Wednesday night.
Earlier, taking up the matter of his arrest, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had issued notices to the Islamabad police chief and chief commissioner over the detention and directed them to appear before the high court at 10am on Wednesday.
At the hearing, on Wednesday morning, when the IHC chief justice was apprised that the area where the suspect was arrested fell within the territorial jurisdiction of Punjab, Justice Minallah also disposed of the petition for want of jurisdiction, while allowing the petitioner to approach the IHC again if the Lahore High Court declared the area did not fall within its jurisdiction.
Amid the media hype over the journalist’s detention, chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Human Rights, Senator Walid Iqbal, also took notice of the matter and sought a report from the ministry’s secretary within 24 hours.
In a letter, the senator asked the secretary to report reasons for the arrest along with details about the alleged violation of the fundamental rights and explain if the act was not against the spirit of Sections 3, 5 and 7 of the Protection of Journalists and Media Professionals Act, 2021. The ministry was also told to explain steps being taken to ensure implementation of the provisions in the act.
A meeting of the panel would be held after the receipt of report, he added.
Senator Mohsin Aziz, chairman of the standing committee on interior, also took serious notice of the arrest and said it would meet to investigate the police action and also seek reports from Islamabad and Punjab police chiefs with particular reference to the queries and concerns raised by Mr Riaz regarding harassment by police.
International human rights watchdog Amnesty International also issued a statement on the matter, tweeting: “Amnesty International is alarmed by news of journalist Imran Riaz Khan’s arrest and urges authorities to stop punishing dissenting voices.”
Meanwhile, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Pakistan affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), urged the government to withdraw the cases against the journalist.
Iftikhar A. Khan also contributed to this report