The Balochistan High Court (BHC) on Tuesday restrained the provincial government and authorities from registering any more first information reports (FIRs) against PTI Senator Azam Swati and from moving him out of Quetta.

The senior PTI leader was arrested last month, the second time the senator was taken into custody by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in less than two months over controversial tweets about senior military leaders. He was arrested after the FIA booked him in a case registered under Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016 (Peca), which deals with offences against the dignity of a person.

He was also nominated in multiple FIRs registered in Balochistan and Sindh for using “derogatory language” and “provoking the people against the army”. Azam was transferred to Quetta on Friday after the judicial magistrate of Islamabad handed him over to the Balochistan police and subsequently on Sunday, a judicial magistrate remanded him in police custody for five days.

A two-member bench comprising Justice Kamran Mulakhail and Justice Aamir Rana announced the verdict today after presiding over a hearing on a petition by Osman Swati that requested the court to bar law enforcement agencies from lodging “false, fabricated and malicious FIRs” against his father.

According to the written verdict, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Osman’s counsel contended that as many as 25 FIRs — five in Balochistan alone — had been lodged against the senator throughout the country on the basis of the same allegation.

The counsel said that Azam was in the custody of the Crime Investigation Agency in connection to an FIR registered in Quetta. He shared his concerns that once a bail was secured, his father could be moved to another location where a similar FIR would be in place.

Osman’s lawyer added that Azam was a senator, along with being an “ailing and aged” person, and was subjected to “undue harassment and [being] dragged in unnecessary prosecution”. He argued that under Article 13 (Protection against double punishment and self incrimination) of the Constitution, no one can be “vexed twice in respect of same allegation”.

The hearing was adjourned till December 20.

Meanwhile, Justice Rana ruled on a second petition involving Swati that sought the quashing of five cases against him in Zhob, Khuzdar, Berot, Hub and Pasni.

According to the written verdict, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, Azam’s counsel argued that the five FIRs in various Balochistan districts could not have been lodged against the senator for his alleged offences — remarks against a certain Pakistan Army individual — since those offences were not cognisable.

The counsel said that the senator was facing life threats and was currently confined in Quetta, adding that if he was moved to “far-flung areas” of the province then his life would be “jeopardised”.

Justice Rana ordered that Azam’s custody not be handed over to any of the five district police until a decision on the petition and adjourned the hearing for Dec 9.

Notices were also issued to the respondents in both cases.

Arrests over tweets

Azam was first arrested by the FIA on charges of posting controversial tweets about the armed forces in October and was later released on bail.

The senator has alleged since that he was tortured in custody and demanded the removal of two military officials, one of whom he used foul language against in his tweet on November 26.

On November 27, the FIA arrested Swati for the second time over a “highly obnoxious campaign of intimidating tweets […] against state institutions”.

The arrest came after an FIR was registered by the FIA on the complaint of the state through Islamabad Cyber Crime Reporting Centre Technical Assistant Aneesur Rehman.

The complaint was registered under Section 20 of Peca as well as Sections 131 (abetting mutiny or attempting to seduce a soldier from his duty),500 (punishment for defamation), 501 (defamation and printing of content deemed defamatory), Section 505 (statement conducing to public mischief) and 109 (abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Following his arrest in November, the Pakistan Electronic Media and Regulatory Authority prohibited Azam’s media coverage on all satellite TV channels.

Azam had also moved a petition before the Islamabad High Court against shifting him outside the jurisdiction of the federal capital in view of the multiple cases filed against him.

The plea had requested the court to restrain the res­p­­ondent authorities from handi­ng over the senator to the Sindh or Balochistan pol­ice until the record was produced before the court.

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