Lahore journalist remanded into FIA custody over 'anti-state' Facebook posts

Updated January 17, 2020

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Journalist Azharul Haq Wahid (R) poses for a photo along with his lawyer while holding a copy of the Constitution of Pakistan during his court appearance on Friday. — Photo by author
Journalist Azharul Haq Wahid (R) poses for a photo along with his lawyer while holding a copy of the Constitution of Pakistan during his court appearance on Friday. — Photo by author

A local court in Lahore on Friday granted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) three-day physical remand of a journalist whom the agency has accused of sharing "anti-state" content on Facebook.

Azharul Haq Wahid, who has remained associated with Channel Five and daily Khabrain newspaper, was arrested by the FIA on Thursday and a first information report (FIR) was registered against him under Sections 11 and 20 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016, read with Section 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code.

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According to the FIR registered at the FIA Cyber Crime Wing police station, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, "It had been learnt during scrutiny of social media that anti-state and defamatory material against the public functionaries and state departments is being uploaded through a Facebook ID" in the name of Wahid.

The FIA presented the journalist before Judicial Magistrate Yasir Arafat today. The counsel for the agency requested physical remand of Wahid, saying it needed to further interrogate him for "sharing anti-state material on Facebook". It was unclear what the "anti-state" content contained.

The suspect also shared an "offensive, edited" version of the country's national anthem on his Facebook page, the lawyer said, adding that a raid had also been conducted at the journalist's home after obtaining search warrants.

Advocate Mian Dawood, representing Wahid, rejected the allegations of sharing anti-state material against his client and said that the FIA had arrested him "illegally". He argued that the agency had already seized the journalist's mobile phone and thus his further physical remand was not necessary.

After hearing all arguments, the court sent Wahid into FIA's custody on a three-day physical remand, with the agency directed to produce him again on January 20.

The magistrate also ordered the FIA to submit a report regarding its inquiry against the journalist.

'Unconstitutional step'

The Lahore Press Club issued a statement on Friday saying its office-bearers "strongly condemn" FIA's arrest of Wahid — a member of the press club's council.

"The arrest of the journalist by the FIA is tantamount to usurping the right to freedom of expression and is an unconstitutional step," a statement issued the press club secretary said.

The press club's officers demanded of Prime Minister Imran Khan to ensure the journalist is immediately released and of the FIA to issue an apology, saying journalists would otherwise stage countrywide protests.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas also took to Twitter to criticise Wahid's arrest, terming it "highly condemnable".

"In the last one year the agencies have picked up journalists [and] rights activists under PECA 2016," he wrote.