Supreme Court takes notice of Matiullah Jan's abduction, demands police report in 2 weeks

Updated 23 Jul 2020

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"Someone has the nerve to do such a thing in police uniforms," Justice Minallah remarked, adding that vehicles that had surrounded Jan's car had police headlights as well.  — Photo courtesy Facebook
"Someone has the nerve to do such a thing in police uniforms," Justice Minallah remarked, adding that vehicles that had surrounded Jan's car had police headlights as well. — Photo courtesy Facebook

The Supreme Court on Wednesday took notice of journalist Matiullah Jan's abduction from the capital a day ago and directed the Islamabad police chief to submit a report on the incident in two weeks.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was hearing a suo motu case pertaining to alleged contemptuous tweets by Jan.

At the outset of the hearing, the bench inquired about Jan's abduction from Islamabad's sector G-6/1-3 the previous day.

The attorney general, who had appeared before court today, said that "immediate proceedings" had been initiated in the matter.

Justice Gulzar summoned the Islamabad police chief in the next hearing and questioned why the police had not recorded the journalist's statement till now.

"What are the institutions doing?" he asked the attorney general.

Representatives of Pakistan Bar Council and SC Bar Council also attended the hearing. During the proceedings, SCBC's Latif Khosa, while observing that the journalist was "picked up in broad daylight", said: "Is this a banana republic?"

Khosa demanded that the kidnappers be identified from the CCTV footage available with the police.

Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists' former president Afzal Butt insisted that those responsible for the act be brought to light at which the court assured him that "the case was not being wrapped up".

Meanwhile, the bench granted Jan, who was present in court today, two weeks to hire a legal representative and submit his reply on the Supreme Court's notice for contempt.

The hearing was adjourned for two weeks.

The top court had last week taken a suo motu notice of allegedly defamatory tweets by the journalist and issued notices to the attorney general, Jan and president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC), on the other hand, had dismissed a petition for contempt proceedings against the journalist for the same posts, saying that the dignity of judges was not “so frail and vulnerable so as to be harmed by a tweet on the social media”.

'Alarming and intolerable'

Meanwhile, the IHC wrapped up a habeas corpus petition pertaining to the abduction of journalist Matiullah Jan and raised alarm while observing that the act was seemingly carried out by people in police uniforms.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah noted that CCTV footage, which allegedly captured the kidnapping of the journalist, showed that those who picked him up were in police uniforms.

"Someone has the nerve to do such a thing in police uniforms," Justice Minallah remarked, adding that vehicles that had surrounded Jan's car had police headlights as well.

"What impression will the public get that people are roaming around freely in police uniforms," he said, adding that the episode was meant to "scare others".

The chief justice said because footage showed men in police uniforms, Jan's abduction would be a "test case" for the police.

"If there is no rule of law, there will be nothing here except chaos," Justice Minallah said.

Jan was abducted outside the Government Girls School, situated in Islamabad’s sector G-6/1-3, by unidentified persons yesterday. After an outcry by journalist community, rights activists and politicians, he returned home late last night — 12 hours after being abducted.

While he was missing, his brother Shahid Akbar Abbasi lodged a first information report against the unidentified persons under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code and also filed a habeas corpus petition through Barrister Jahangir Khan Jadoon before the IHC.

The IHC had accepted the petition “keeping in view the gravity of the matter and its implication in the context of constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizen” and had directed interior secretary, chief commissioner and inspector general of Islamabad to trace the ‘missing’ journalist by today or face the music.

During today's hearing, a representative of the interior ministry and Deputy Inspector General (Operations) Waqaruddin Syed appeared before the court.

Justice Minallah, who heard the case, termed the incident as "alarming", saying that such an act "cannot be tolerated".

"It is our misfortune that such an event happened in Islamabad," he lamented, adding that the federal government should "ensure the freedom of expression".

DIG (Operation) Syed told the court that an FIR had been lodged, at which the chief justice asked why clauses related to terrorism had not been added.

"Terror clauses are included in [the case of] any crime committed against a journalist," he said.

IHC journalists association thanked the high court for hearing the petition. A written verdict is yet to be issued.

Journalist's 'forced' abduction

Jan was kidnapped by nearly half a dozen plainclothes and uniformed men from outside a government school in broad daylight in the federal capital.

The journalist had already been in the limelight due to the contempt proceeding against him in the Supreme Court for his alleged ‘contemptuous’ tweet regarding Justice Isa case decision. A hearing of the case is scheduled today.

Alleged CCTV footage of the abduction shows that it was around 11:10am when men in uniform and plainclothes forcibly removed Jan from his car and thrashed him in front of Government Girls School, where his spouse works as a teacher. It can be seen in the footage, which later went viral on social media, that the journalist was being manhandled and dragged towards their vehicles when he threw his mobile phone into the school while a uniformed man immediately collected it from a woman at the school. The journalist was then whisked away to an undisclosed location.

The ‘forced abduction' not only enraged journalist community and rights organisations but also triggered serious security concerns among legal fraternity, political parties and diplomatic circles.

Justice Qazi Faez Isa along with his wife went to Jan’s house to offer their support and express concern over his abduction. They met his two brothers and a sister in law, who then took them to another brother’s house where his wife and children were staying.

The matter was also taken up in the National Assembly where opposition parties and the journalists covering the NA proceedings staged a walkout from the house. Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri sent Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs to woo the reporters, but he failed to do so as the reporters announced that they would continue to boycott the session till the time the government did not disclose Jan’s whereabouts and identify those responsible for it.

Showing helplessness, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan asked the deputy speaker to seek a response from Minister for Interior Brig (retd) Ejaz Shah over the incident.

Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, the chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights, has also called an emergency meeting of the committee today to discuss the matter.