The Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) leader and MNA Ali Wazir in a case related to making incendiary remarks against state institutions.
A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and comprising Justice Jamal Mandokhail and Justice Aminuddin Khan was hearing Wazir's appeal against the Sindh High Court’s (SHC) judgement earlier this year that had dismissed his bail application. The apex court set bail at Rs400,000.
The court observed that the other accused in the hate speech case had been granted bail, which was not challenged, so Wazir could not be kept in jail as well.
The lawmaker, however, may not be released immediately as there are other cases pending against him in which he has not been granted bail.
'Good Taliban, bad Taliban'
During the hearing, Justice Masood observed that the state was releasing other people after negotiations, without naming whom he was referring to.
"It is possible that matters are settled with Ali Wazir someday as well," the judge said, adding that people were being martyred. "Do legal provisions not apply there?" he questioned. "Is the court here just to reject bails?"
Referring to the recent protests by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and its eventual agreement with the government, Justice Masood said the court cancelled their bails only for the government to later sign agreements with them.
Justice Jamal Mandokhail also questioned whether the issues raised by Wazir should not have been discussed in parliament. "Ali Wazir had complained that his grievances should have been addressed. Why are our own [people] being turned into strangers instead of being accepted?" Justice Mandokhail questioned.
He inquired what would happen if "even one of Wazir's allegations" turned out to be true.
Justice Mandokhail remarked that seeing the treatment meted out to the other accused in the case, it seemed to be a case of "good Taliban [and] bad Taliban" — a euphemism to explain different treatments meted out to similar people.
Justice Masood questioned why Wazir had been charged under the anti-terror laws, when it seemed the charge wasn't merited in his case.
Wazir's legal counsel, Latif Afridi, argued that he had only made complaints in his speech. "How did a Sindhi police officer register a case against Ali Wazir's speech in Pashto?" he questioned.
Justice Aminuddin Khan said it was clear from the record that the case was registered after a translation.
The prosecutor general of Sindh said that there were similar cases against the MNA as well to which Justice Masood questioned whether Wazir had been granted bail in the other cases. The prosecutor general replied that Wazir had not been granted bail in any other case.
MNA Wazir was arrested on the charges of making insulting and incendiary speeches against state institutions at a PTM protest rally in Karachi on December 6, 2020. A first information report (FIR) was lodged against him the following day at Karachi's Sohrab Goth police station.
The interned PTM lawmaker, through his counsel, approached the SHC for bail after an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Karachi had dismissed a similar application in February. The high court too had denied his bail request.
He then pleaded before the apex court to set aside the high court order since it was not sustainable under the law and facts. The appeal also stated that Wazir was innocent and did not commit the offence under which he was arrested.
Moreover, the SHC and the ATC had failed to appreciate that witnesses named in the FIR challan were not independent witnesses but police personnel, the petition argued.
The petition regretted that no independent witness was cited against the appellant from the area where the public meeting was held. Therefore, a National Assembly member — who was himself struggling for the supremacy of parliament and the rule of law, the Constitution and for the democratic and human rights of the citizens — had been implicated in a false case.
The appellant had no criminal history or any other pending cases against him, the petition stated and questioned any independent evidence, direct or indirect, to connect Wazir with offences like criminal conspiracy, waging war against the state, assaulting the president and governor, promoting enmity between different groups, disobeying law and order, and circulating rumours to cause mutiny.
The appeal argued that Wazir was arrested and implicated in the case due to political rivalry with the ruling party.
The appeal also questioned whether the appellant was arrested and the FIR was lodged against him after seeking approval from the National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser, which is the norm.
The SHC, according to the appeal, had failed to appreciate that the appellant was entitled to bail since no independent witness was ever produced against him during the trial.
Bail denied by SHC
In its June 1 order, the SHC had noted: “Upon a tentative assessment of the transcript of the speech which is on record, we have observed that uncouth, vulgar, obscene and uncivilised language has been used by the applicant against institutions of the state apart from language and words that may have the potential of creating disharmony and inciting provincial differences.”
The SHC had also observed that it was incumbent upon all persons and institutions of the country to ensure the stability and security of Pakistan and not to incite feelings that had the potential to lead to the contrary.
The bench further noted that healthy and constructive criticism against any person or institution, expressed in a civilised manner, should be permissible, but a distinction must be drawn between criticism and spewing venom through uncouth language, which could not be permitted on the basis of freedom of expression when it may lead to destabilisation of the country.
Wazir, along with 10 others, was indicted by a Karachi anti-terrorism court on November 3 in the sedition case about his comments against state institutions. All of the accused had pleaded not guilty and will be facing a trial.
'Ray of hope'
Reacting to the development, PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen said that there was another case against Wazir in the SHC and other supporters of the group were in jail on false charges as well but "a ray of hope is seen in these kinds of decisions".
The PTM chief lamented that agreements were reached with those who ransacked and wreaked havoc in the country and money was distributed among protesters. "Seventeen people of Ali Wazir's family were martyred. Cases of treason are made against those who raise their voice against injustice," he said.
He also thanked political parties, lawyers, journalists and supporters who had called for Wazir's release.
MNA Mohsin Dawar said it took a long time but he was "glad that Ali will be out on bail".
Journalist Asma Shirazi also tweeted her congratulations to Wazir on the news.