• Petitioner was court-martialled under Section 71 of PAF Act
• Contends LHC can invoke constitutional jurisdiction

ISLAMABAD: A civilian lecturer of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has petitioned before the Lahore High Court (LHC), Rawalpindi bench, to set aside his conviction over a leaked call with a pilot — one of his former students — in which he congratulated him for shooting down the Indian fighter plane flown by Abhinandan Varthaman.

Indian Air Force pilot Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan in 2019 after his MiG-21 Bison aircraft was shot down by a PAF jet, was recently awarded the Vir Cha­kra — the third-highest wartime gallantry award after Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra — by the Indian government.

The petitioner, Hafiz Farooq Ahmed Khan who was working at PAF College Lower Topa, Murree, faced court martial after his telephonic conversation with the PAF pilot went viral on social media.

As per details of the case, Khan was recruited as a civilian lecturer in PAF College in June 1999 through the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC).

He was charged and subsequently convicted by the Court Martial under the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923.

In his petition, Mr Khan stated that on the evening of Feb 27, 2019, he and his wife were watching television at his official residence in PAF College, Lower Topa.

While watching the news about two Indian aircraft being shot down by the PAF during a standoff between the two countries, Mr Khan called up his old student, who was an air force fighter pilot, to congratulate him, the petition added.

It stated that the call lasted two minutes and 27 seconds, during which Mr Khan exchanged congratulatory remarks with the pilot, who stated on his own, without being questioned by the petitioner, that whatever was being shown on media was not even 30pc and that there had been 350 casualties on ground.

The petition then explained how the call got leaked and went viral on social media.

Mr Khan admitted in the plea that he had forwarded the same call to 61 of his relatives and friends out of sheer excitement and pride and to highlight PAF spirit. “Ultimately, the said call went viral on social media and was noticed/detected by the Air Intelligence Agency of PAF,” he said.

The teacher was held on July 8, 2019 and was court-martialled on four charges under Section 71 of the PAF Act, 1953. He was accused of committing an offence for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interest of the State, while having conversation…recorded information about PAF Air Operations, which might directly or indirectly be useful to an enemy, “unauthorised possession of document/information”, “failed to take reasonable care of the same resulting into leakage of the said information on social media” and unauthorised dissemination of air operations to over 60 contacts.

During the court martial proceedings, Khan pleaded “not guilty” following which the prosecution recorded the evidence of 11 witnesses and presented certain documents while in his defence the teacher produced his wife and four other witnesses.

Khan was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of two years and eight months vide by the Field General Court Martial. The base commander remitted the sentence by eight months and reduced it to 24 months.

The petitioner then filed an appeal before the PAF Appellate Tribunal that further remitted the sentence by one year and two months.

He contended that since there was no alternative forum available for review, the LHC could invoke the constitutional jurisdiction of Article 199 to administer justice.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021

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