ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: In a dramatic turn of events, the government of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) arrested a senior journalist and a leader of an opposition party before dawn on Thursday on charges involving criticism of the military’s political influence.
While anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan, a fierce critic of the military and the central government, was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad, chief of the Awami Muslim League (AML) party, was taken into custody by Islamabad police just after midnight.
According to his nephew, Sheikh Rashid Shafique, Ahmad was arrested from his residence in Bahria Town society in Islamabad. He told reporters that dozens of police officers forcibly entered his uncle’s house before dawn and arrested him, although Ahmad had already obtained a protective bail.
The former interior minister is charged with accusing former president Asif Ali Zardari, whose Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is part of the ruling coalition, of hatching a “murder plot to eliminate former prime minister Imran Khan”, who made a similar claim days ago.
The arrest was made following a police complaint filed by Raja Inayat ur-Rehman, a vice president of the Rawalpindi Division of the party. The complaint cited remarks Ahmad made in a television interview on January 27, allegedly accusing Zardari of having ties with militant groups and plotting to kill former prime minister Khan.
The claim followed a similar accusation made by the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party in an address broadcast on January 27, in which he claimed that Zardari was behind a fresh assassination plot against him.
The first information report (FIR) against Ahmad was registered at Aabpara police station in Islamabad under sections 120-B, 153-A, and 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), relating to criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups, and statements that could cause public mischief.
Meanwhile, according to Khan’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, the journalist was taken into custody from the Allama Iqbal Airport in Lahore by the cyber-crime wing of the FIA. Ashfaq said he’s accused of “hate speech” against former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa and making a “violence-inducing statement” which the agency claims was aimed at creating “a rift between the general public and the state institutions”.
The FIA has accused Khan of comments questioning Bajwa’s pledge for the military to remain apolitical. The video was shared on social media platforms, both nationally and internationally, and its contents were found to be “violence-inducing” and had the potential to cause fear or alarm to the public.
The agency concluded that his actions were a deliberate attempt to create chaos, division, and incite violence, and a case was registered against him for offenses under various sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and PPC.
Khan was arrested in July of last year as well, despite a court order to the contrary, on the vague charge of “inciting people for agitation and creating chaos.” A total of 17 cases were registered against him across Punjab but eventually, 16 of them were dismissed.
The two developments have caused widespread outrage. Khan, the former prime minister, “strongly” condemned the arrests.
“Never in our history have we had such a biased, vindictive caretaker [government appointed] by totally discredited ECP,” he tweeted. “The question is can [Pakistan] afford a street movement which we are being pushed towards at a time when we have been bankrupted by imported [government]?”
Asad Umar, secretary general of the opposition party, highlighted the issue of “terrorists walking free in the country” while journalists and opposition politicians are behind bars.
“Journalism is currently facing severe censorship, but the truth cannot be silenced, even with the arrest of Imran Riaz Khan,” read a tweet issued by the official Twitter account of the party.__Pakistan Today