Bilal Farooqi — a journalist associated with English daily Express Tribune — was released during the early hours of Saturday morning on a "personal guarantee" of his lawyer Jibran Nasir, hours after being detained by Karachi police for allegedly posting "objectionable" material on social media.
His release was also confirmed by Sindh government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab. "He has been released and is being taken back to his residence by police," Wahab said in a tweet.
On Friday, the chief of Karachi police, Additional IG Ghulam Nabi Memon, confirmed that the Station Investigation Officer of the Defence police station had arrested the journalist.
Farooqi was wanted in a case registered against him under Sections 500 (defamation) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Sections 11 (hate speech) and 20 (offences against the dignity of a natural person) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (Peca) on a complaint lodged by Javed Khan, a resident of Majeed Colony, Landhi, who claimed that Farooqi shared “highly objectionable material” on his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
On Saturday morning, Farooqi, who works as a news editor for Express Tribune, appeared before Judicial Magistrate (South) Uzair Ali.
During the hearing, Investigation Officer (IO) Malik Basharat filed an interim report stating that Sections 500 and 505 from the PPC had been removed from the FIR. "Other sections of Peca are in tact," he added.
The judge came down hard on the IO, observing that after removing the sections of the PPC, the case was no longer within the jurisdiction of the police and was now a matter for the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The judge returned the interim report and directed the IO to submit a proper report at the next hearing. Under the law, the IO has 14 days to submit the report.
Speaking to Dawn.com, Karachi Press Club lawyer Ghulam Shabbir said police had released the journalist on a personal bond.
"During the hearing, the IO said that police conducted an inquiry on the FIR filed by the operations department," Shabbir said. He said the IO admitted that police did not have the power to investigate the cybercrime charges against the journalist.
Shabbir said it was likely the police would file a 'C' (cancel) class report as they didn't have evidence to justify the charges against Farooqi.
According to the FIR against the journalist, the complainant visited a restaurant in DHA Phase-II Extension on September 9. After checking his Facebook and Twitter accounts, Javed said, “I found that highly objectionable material” was shared by Farooqi.
The complainant alleged that the posts contained “highly provocative language” against the army. The posts also contained material inciting sectarianism, he alleged.
He accused Farooqi of "defaming" the Pakistan Army, saying such social media posts might be used by “hostile elements for their nefarious designs”.
“Therefore, legal action should be taken against him.”