Verdict reserved; PTI leader arrested on sedition charges; LHC dismissed petition observing detention was ‘not illegal’
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry was presented before an Islamabad court on Wednesday, hours after being arrested for “inciting violence against a constitutional institution”.
The former federal minister was taken into custody early Wednesday morning after a first information report against him was registered at Islamabad’s Kohsar police station by an official of the Election Commission of Pakistan for “threatening” the electoral body’s members and their families.
According to Fawad’s brother, Faisal, the former federal minister was “taken away” in four cars that did not have any number plates at 5:30am. Faisal said that the family was unaware of Fawad’s location at the time.
“We are also not being given any details of the FIR registered against him,” he said. Faisal, who is also a prominent lawyer, termed his brother’s arrest “illegal” and asserted that he will fight this battle in court.
The PTI leader was later brought to Lahore’s Cantt court where the judicial magistrate granted police Fawad’s transit remand.
Later in the day, Islamabad police presented Fawad before Duty Judge Naveed Khan and sought his remand for eight days. The prosecutor told the court that authorities needed Fawad’s phone and his laptop, adding that the politician’s custody was required for conducting a photogrammetric test and a voice match.
During the hearing, ECP lawyer Saad Hasan read out the contents of the FIR. He contended that the PTI leader had termed the electoral watchdog to be a munshi (clerk).
The lawyer argued that the ECP was a constitutional body, adding that the regime change narrative had been formed under a well-thought out plan. “Fawad Chaudhry damaged the ECP’s reputation by making threatening statements.”
Hasan added that Fawad’s remarks were aimed at inciting one group against the other. He contended that the ECP had received many threatening letters. “The purpose of Fawad’s speech was to promote hatred against the commission.”
He further said that Fawad had not apologised for his remarks and was still standing by them, adding that there was a lot of “electronic proof” present against the politician.
On the other hand, the PTI leader requested the judge to dismiss the case registered against him, arguing that the FIR was not in accordance with the law.
“They have charged me with sedition for doing criticism. If this happens, then democracy and freedom of expression will cease to exist.”
He said that whatever he says is on the PTI’s behalf. “I am the party’s spokesperson. Whatever I say is my party’s policy. It is not necessary that what I say is my personal opinion.”
Fawad further said that he “was not making a speech and what giving a media talk”, adding that his remarks were “quoted incorrectly”.
The PTI leader said he was arrested in Lahore and his mobile phone was also seized. Later, he was handed over the Islamabad police.
“I am a senior lawyer, a parliamentarian and a spokesperson for the PTI. I am not a terrorist that I was detained in the Counter Terrorism Department,” he said, arguing that his arrest was illegal.
Fawad’s lawyers Ali Bukhari and Qaiser Imam also presented their arguments before the court.
Bukhari said that the FIR against Fawad should have been registered in Lahore. “According to the law, a case is registered where the alleged crime took place.”
For his part, Imam said the court needed to examine which charges were applicable in the case. He questioned whether a case could be registered at someone’s behest.
He further said that the remarks given by Fawad did not fall within the jurisdiction of the Kohsar police station. “Fawad did not make the remarks in Islamabad.”
Separately, a petition was filed in the LHC by Fawad’s cousin Nabeel Shahzad against the arrest. The application named the Punjab government, provincial police officer, counter-terrorism department, deputy inspector general of police (operation) and station house officer of Defence A as respondents in the case.
It said that the PTI leader was apprehended “illegally, unconstitutionally and without legal authority” and demanded that police officials should be directed to recover Fawad from the “illegal and unlawful confinement” and produce him before the high court.
However, the LHC dismissed the petition observing that Fawad’s detention was “not illegal”.
Justice Tariq Saleem heard the petition challenging the PTI leader’s arrest. The hearing was adjourned at least four times as the judge repeatedly directed authorities to present Fawad before the court.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Sheikh instructed the police to present Fawad in court by 1:30pm. However, when the proceedings resumed at 2pm, Punjab Advocate General Chaudhry Muhammad Jawad Yaqub said that he was not in the position to tell where Fawad was.
On the other hand, PTI lawyer Azhar Siddique told the court that they had just learnt that Fawad was being taken to Islamabad.
“The orders that I give, I make sure they are implemented,” Justice Sheikh said here. “Even if he [Fawad] has reached Islamabad, bring him back and present him before the court.”
In his response, the AAG said that he will ensure that the court’s orders were executed and sought some time. Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned for 30 minutes.
When it resumed, the judge inquired: “Where is Fawad?”
The AAG replied that Fawad was in the custody of the Islamabad police after which Justice Sheikh summoned the inspector generals of Islamabad and Punjab to court.
“The IGs of Islamabad and Punjab should appear in the court by 6pm,” he said and instructed the LHC registrar to immediately communicate the orders to them. But only the Punjab IG was present when the hearing resumed shortly after 6pm.
Fawad’s lawyer stated that his client had not been presented in court yet again. “It is alarming that he was not produced before the court despite the court’s directives,” he said.
For his part, Punjab IG Dr Usman Anwar informed the court that he was present in Rahim Yar Khan where mobile signals were weak. “I received the court’s directives regarding Fawad once mobile signals started working,” he said, asserting that the court could “check his track record”.
He maintained that he had tried to get in touch with Islamabad police but was unable to do so, adding that his “operator” was still making efforts in this regard.