A judicial magistrate in Karachi has instructed the investigation officer to file a challan in a case against journalist Bilal Farooqi on Saturday.
Farooqi was arrested from his home in Karachi’s Defence Friday evening after a machine operator at a factory in Landhi filed an FIR against him at the Defence police station. He was released in the early hours of Saturday after the government intervened.
The investigation officer will now have to submit a challan within 14 days.
Farooqi appeared before the court of the South judicial magistrate with his lawyers Jibran Nasir and Shabbir Buledi. During the hearing, the judge looked unhappy with the charges filed against the journalist.
An FIR was registered under Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code and sections 11 (hate speech) and 20 (harming the reputation or privacy of a natural person) of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, 2016.
Buledi told SAMAA Digital that he believes the FIR against the journalist will be quashed because the police don’t have anything to justify the charges against him. The police can’t investigate the cyber-crime charges because it’s not in their jurisdiction. Cyber crime falls under the ambit of the FIA.
I was told by the landlord that the police were conducting a survey and needed me downstairs with my original CNIC, Farooqi told SAMAA Digital. “When I stepped out of my home, they caught me and made me sit in their police vehicle.”
According to the journalist, the policemen came in a Baloch Colony police station vehicle but stopped it near Iqra University and pushed him into another police vehicle.
“I was handcuffed and my face was covered with the piece of cloth,” said Farooqi. “I was then taken to a room where they didn’t allow anyone to meet for the first few hours.”
Farooqi’s arrest was condemned by the journalist and human rights groups. The Committee to Protect Journalist said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” over his arrest.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded an independent inquiry into the case.
Pakistan’s media industry has been going through a crisis in the past few years as hundreds of media workers lost their jobs due to a financial meltdown and many others moved to digital media platforms to continue their work.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said in the past that the country’s media is even “freer” than that of the UK’s. But there are several examples that tell an entirely different story.
Matiullah Jan, a prominent journalist and a vocal critic of PM Khan’s government and the establishment, was kidnapped in broad daylight in Islamabad on July 22. His kidnapping was recorded on a CCTV camera installed outside the school where his wife worked.
The video showed multiple vehicles stopping near his car and men in plainclothes and black police uniforms dragging him out and forcing him into another vehicle.
He was released 12 hours after his abduction in a deserted area in Fateh Jang. Despite the presence of video evidence, his abductors have yet to be identified.
In April 2019, Pakistani journalist Shahzeb Jillani was booked under the country’s cybercrime laws in a case of cyber terrorism, hate speech and defamatory remarks against state institutions.
A local court in Karachi, however, dismissed the charges against him a month after he was booked because the Federal Investigation Agency failed to provide evidence against him.
In August, over 40 Pakistani women journalists issued a joint statement, claiming that government officials were “instigating” online attacks against them. “We demand that the government immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media,” they said in a statement.