Bail plea of Lahore journalist arrested over 'anti-state' Facebook posts rejected

Updated January 29, 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 earlier this month. — Photo by author/File
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 earlier this month. — Photo by author/File

A sessions court in Lahore on Wednesday rejected the post-arrest bail plea of a journalist who was arrested for allegedly sharing "anti-state" content on Facebook.

Azharul Haq Wahid, who has remained associated with Channel Five and daily Khabrain newspaper, was arrested by the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing earlier this month when he appeared before it to record his statement in an inquiry initiated against him.

Advocate Mian Dawood, representing Wahid, had defended the journalist, saying the FIA had arrested him for criticising the policies of the PTI government and acquittal of former military ruler retired Gen Pervez Musharraf in the high treason case.

Appearing in the court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Misbah Khan, Advocated Dawood argued today that a judicial magistrate had dismissed Wahid's bail application without considering the facts.

He said it was against the rules of fair trial to only accept findings of FIA's investigation and that the Constitution's Articles 8 and 9 guarantee the protection of a citizen's fundamental rights.

According to the lawyer, subordinate courts were bound to grant bail in cases registered under sections mandating punishments of less than 10 years.

"The young journalist has been targeted and arrested only to create further fear in the media," Dawood said.

"Can criticism against ministers or certain persons be considered criticism against an institution?" he asked during the hearing. The lawyer said the journalist was also raising his voice for the issues of countless poor people from his Facebook page.

He said the FIA had arrested Wahid over "baseless" allegations. In addition, the allegations which relate to the sections of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 and Pakistan Penal Code under which the journalist has been booked have not been made part of the case, he added.

Examine: Reviewing Peca’s powers

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of the press, Dawood said, requesting the court to accept the journalist's bail application.

The counsel for FIA opposed the bail plea, arguing that the journalist had "knowingly uploaded content against state institutions and government personalities".

After hearing all arguments, the sessions court dismissed Wahid's bail application. The journalist remains in judicial custody.

'Defamatory material'

According to the FIR registered at the FIA Cyber Crime Wing police station against the journalist, "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 suspect also shared an "offensive, edited" version of the country's national anthem on his Facebook page, the FIA lawyer had informed the court.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Punjab Union of Journalists and Lahore Press Club had strongly condemned the journalist's arrest and demanded his immediate release.

In their separate statements, the journalists' organisations termed Wahid's arrest an act of silencing the voice of citizens and a curb on freedom of expression.

They asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of the situation and ensure release of the journalist.