Fawad ‘picked up’ in attempt to silence PTI mouthpiece

Published January 26, 2023
<p>ISLAMABAD: Police officials escort former information minister Fawad Chaudhry (centre) with his head covered in white cloth, as he is presented before a court here, on Wednesday night. —Online</p>

ISLAMABAD: Police officials escort former information minister Fawad Chaudhry (centre) with his head covered in white cloth, as he is presented before a court here, on Wednesday night. —Online

• Party spokesperson whisked away from his Lahore home in the early hours of Wednesday
• Produced in Islamabad court after being booked in ‘sedition’ case for criticising ECP
• LHC dismisses habeas corpus plea for former minister’s recovery, terms arrest lawful

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: A court in the federal capital sent PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry on a two-day physical remand on Wednesday, after he was produced by the Islamabad police before magistrate Naveed Khan in a sedition case, following his arrest from Lahore earlier in the day.

After his arrest on sedition charges, on the complaint of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary lodged at the Kohsar police station, the capital police obtained his transit remand from a judicial magistrate in Lahore and moved him to Islamabad, escorted by a fleet of police mobile vans.

Soon after his arrest, PTI moved a habeas corpus petition before the Lahore High Court seeking Mr Chaudhry’s recovery from the “illegal custody of police”.

The petition, however, was dismissed in the evening and the high court observed that “prima facie no illegality had been committed in his arrest”.

In Islamabad, before he was produced in the court of Naveed Khan, the PTI leader was taken to Pims to undergo a medical check-up. Wearing a white face mask, footage showed the former minister made a victory sign as two police officials escorted him to the hospital.

After the medical examination, the police produced him in court with his face covered with a white cloth and sought an eight-day physical remand. His brother Faisal Chaudhry, Zulfi Bukhari and others argued before the judge and opposed the physical remand.

Speaking to the judge, Mr Chaudhry said that he was a Supreme Court lawyer and added the police handcuffed him despite the fact that at least “1,500 police personnel were deployed” outside the courtroom. He said the police had also charged him with mutiny and termed the allegations ‘baseless’. He said the ECP was not immune from criticism and the registration of such FIRs would endanger democracy in the country.

During the hearing, the ECP counsel read out the contents of the FIR and argued that Mr Chaudhry had ridiculed the ECP, which is a constitutional body. He termed the act part of a “well-thought out conspiracy” and claimed that “unknown people wrote threatening letters to the ECP”. The lawyer also offered to share these letters with the judge in his chamber.

The police prosecutor argued that the investigation team required Fawad Chaudhry’s custody to match his voice and conduct photogrammetric tests and a forensic examination of his laptop and mobile phone. The defence counsel objected, saying Fawad Chaudhry did not deny the contents of his media talk, which made such tests redundant.

Security measures

Ahead of his hearing, at least 150 police officials were deployed in and around the District and Sessions Court in Sector F-8 to maintain law and order. Police officials told Dawn that three police vehicles, including a car in which Fawad Chaudhry was travelling, moved towards Islamabad along with a fleet of the Punjab police. The fleet of the Punjab police was replaced at every district located between Islamabad and Lahore, they added.

In Islamabad, Mr Chaudhry was kept in a lock-up of the Counter-Terrorism Department, instead of the Kohsar police station to “avoid any mishap and for better interrogation”, a government official said.

The charges in the FIR against Fawad Chaudhry include Section 124-A (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups, etc), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation).

According to the FIR, Mr Chaudhry threatened the chief election commissioner and other members of the election commission and also called the ECP a ‘munshi’.

The FIR said Fawad Chaudhry warned the election commissioner, ECP members and their families that they will pay back if anything ‘unjust’ happened to the PTI after their appointments. He also tried to make hurdles in the process state election procedure, it added.

Proceedings in Lahore

Earlier, in Lahore, as a magistrate approved his transit remand, he directed the police to take the accused to the hospital for a medical check-up and produce him in court within 24 hours. Addressing the magistrate, Mr Chaudhry, brought to the courtroom in handcuffs, said he was proud to be booked for ‘sedition’ since Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid activist, also faced a similar charge.

This hearing was followed by proceedings in the high court, which took up the habeas corpus petition filed by a cousin of the PTI leader. Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh of the LHC took up the plea and directed the police to produce the detainee in the court by 1:30pm.

However, when the judge resumed the hearing at 2pm when Additional Advocate General (AAG) Jawwad Yaqoob appeared and expressed his inability to confirm whether Chaudhry was still in the city or had been taken to Islamabad. Irked with the law officer’s stance, Justice Sheikh ordered him to bring back the PTI leader if he had been shifted to Islamabad.

After a 30-minute break, the law officer returned to the court and stated that the PTI leader was not in the custody of the Punjab police, but was arrested by Islamabad police in a case registered against him in the federal capital. Justice Sheikh adjourned the hearing till 6pm and summoned the police chiefs of Punjab and Islamabad. On his appearance before the court, Punjab IG Dr Usman Anwar said that Mr Chaudhry had been arrested by Islamabad police. The IGP said he could not establish contact with the Islamabad IG as he was in Rahim Yar Khan on official duty where the cellular network was poor.

In light of the Punjab IGP’s statement, the judge asked the counsel of the petitioner as to what relief he wanted from the court since the politician had been arrested by the police in a case registered against him.

Barrister Ahmad Pansota, on behalf of the petitioner, argued that the police registered the FIR against Chaudhry at 10pm on Tuesday and arrested him from Lahore in the early hours of Wednesday at 5:30am. He said the police raided the house of the PTI leader in vehicles without registration plates. He asked the court to quash the FIR and termed the police’s intentions mala fide. Justice Sheikh, however, observed that a habeas corpus petition stood infructuous if a lawful arrest of an alleged detainee was proved and asked them to approach the Islamabad High Court for relief.

‘Akin to kidnapping’

In response to the arrest of her husband, Hiba Fawad addressed a press conference alongside PTI leaders, saying that he was arrested in a manner that was “akin to kidnapping”. The family remained terrorised for almost two hours after the detention of the former minister, she said, urging the chief justice, prime minister, and the chief minister to intervene for the early release of her husband.

At 5:45am, about a dozen persons entered the house and put Mr Chaudhry in an SUV, she said, offering to submit a video of the incident to corroborate her claims.

“If they had to arrest Fawad, there was a legal way but no one bothered to inform the family why he was being arrested and which agency was arresting him and why he was being taken,” she said. “The media revealed the nature of FIR registered at Islamabad’s Kohsar Police Station but I remained in the dark for at least two hours about the whereabouts of my husband. It was wrong and unacceptable the way Fawad was kidnapped,” she said.

Ikram Junaidi in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2023

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