Lahore court orders release of TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan

Published February 3, 2023
TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan in a Lahore district court on February 3, 2023. — Photo by author
TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan in a Lahore district court on February 3, 2023. — Photo by author

A Lahore court dismissed on Friday the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) case against TV anchor Imran Riaz Khan and ordered his immediate release.

He was arrested from Lahore on Thursday on charges of “hate speech” and making a “violence-inducing statement” aimed at creating “a rift between the general public and the state institutions”.

The BOL News anchor was taken into custody at the Allama Iqbal Airport from where was trying to go to the UAE. The FIA told him that his name was on the blacklist and he was subsequently handed over to the FIA cybercrime wing which had not produced him before a court of law for physical remand until today.

The FIA registered the first information report under sections 11 (electronic forgery), 20 (malicious code), and 24 (legal recognition of offenses committed in relation to information systems) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Peca) 2016. Likewise, sections 131/109 (incitement to mutiny), 500 (punishment for defamation) and 505 (public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code have also been added to the FIR.

According to the FIR — a copy of which is available with Dawn.com — Khan was “found involved in publicly making a hate speech at a conference which falls under the territorial jurisdiction of FIA cyber crime cell”.

The complaint went on to say that the speech was further publicly shared on social media platforms nationally and internationally. The contents of Khan’s speech, as mentioned in the FIR, cast aspersions on former army chief Gen Bajwa’s parting pledge that the military would remain apolitical.

Today’s hearing

The BOL News anchor was presented in the court of Judicial Magistrate Ghulam Murtaza Virk today amid tight security. He was represented by Barrister Mian Ali Ashfaq.

At the outset of the hearing, Khan’s counsel contended before the court that the FIA had not given any reason for seeking his client’s physical remand.

“Imran Riaz Khan has been accused of indulging in hate speech,” he said. “The request states that Imran Riaz’s speech falls under the territorial jurisdiction of the FIA.”

He said the FIA’s use of the words “territorial jurisdiction” was “noteworthy”, pointing out that the words “legal jurisdiction” were not used.

Khan’s counsel urged the court to dismiss the case against his client. “Twenty-one cases of a similar nature are already registered against him.”

The lawyer told the court that his client had stated that “they will keep losing one by one”, highlighting that it was not a crime to make this statement.

He further asked the court whether it was a crime to ask the public whether or not the army was involved in politics.

Khan’s counsel further said that merely telling one to “stay within your constitutional limits” was not a crime. “Imran Riaz did not target any institution.”

The lawyer said the case was registered in November last year. “The FIA office is 500 metres away from where Khan works. FIA officials watch Imran Riaz’s vlogs regularly then why did they not take action earlier?”

Calling the FIA a “handicapped” agency, the counsel said his client accepted that he had passed the statement on the basis of which the case was lodged against him.

“My client considers the statement, on which the case was lodged, a crown for his head,” he said, alleging that the FIA requested the 14-day remand to obtain the Twitter and YouTube password of Khan’s accounts.

Advocate Ashfaq concluded his arguments by stating there was “no need for further recovery” because his client had already confessed that he had passed the statement.

Previous brushes with the law

This is the second time Khan has been arrested by the investigation watchdog. He was previously nabbed last year in July near the outskirts of Islamabad.

Khan had back then, in a video, directly addressed former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, alleging that he was threatened after asking questions from military sources about the country’s current political and economic situation.

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