The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday directed the ministries of interior and defence to “discharge their constitutional duties to effect the recovery” of anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan — whose whereabouts remain unknown since his arrest on May 11 — after Punjab Inspector General Dr Usman Anwar revealed that there was no trace of the journalist at any police department across the country.
The senior official made the remarks as the LHC heard a plea seeking Imran’s recovery. At the previous hearing, the LHC had again directed Punjab police to recover and present the anchorperson. However, the police failed to present Imran before the court during today’s hearing.
Later, his lawyer told Dawn.com that a writ petition was filed on May 12 over the anchorperson’s arrest and the LHC directed the attorney general to present him before the court the same day. But, after its orders were not followed, Sialkot police were given a 48-hour deadline to recover Imran.
A first information report (FIR) pertaining to the matter was registered with Civil Lines police the next day on May 16 on the complaint of the anchorperson’s father, Muhammad Riaz.
The FIR was registered against “unidentified persons” and police officials for allegedly kidnapping Riaz, invoking Section 365 (kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
In a short order issued today, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the court said that the “failure of the police to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of the missing citizen of the country is clear from the information provided by IG Punjab”.
“However, he submitted that his officer wrote letters to the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence on May 16 for obtaining their expertise and cooperation, hence direction to those ministries from this court will be more appropriate for providing assistance/cooperation.”
The LHC said that after hearing the IG, “the other side did not raise any objection for providing further time but issuance of direction to the aforesaid ministries was supported”.
“In view of the above and keeping in view all the agencies, either provincial or federal, are under a legal obligation to utilise all available resources at their disposal to find out the missing citizen of this country, therefore, both the ministries are directed to discharge their constitutional duties to effect the recovery of the alleged detenue/missing citizen,” the order added.
The court also adjourned the hearing till May 25.
LHC gives IG ‘one more chance’
At the outset of the hearing, LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti inquired about the developments in the case. “IG sahib, what is the progress on your end?” he asked.
In response, the IG stated, “Imran Riaz Khan was not wanted by us. However, agencies had asked for a police van. Why they had asked for a police van, [the court] can summon the agencies and ask.”
The judge warned the Punjab IG of consequences if he failed to provide information regarding efforts made to locate the anchorperson.
In response, the IG stated that a meeting had taken place on Sunday, adding that it was attended by representatives from all relevant “agencies”. “We have asked police across Pakistan. No one has Imran Riaz,” he said.
He urged the court to seek a response from the secretaries of the interior and defence ministries, calling on the court to direct the two to assist police.
“Would you like more time?” the judge asked the IG, to which the latter responded in the affirmative.
The Punjab police chief said that his department had also reached out to the Ministry of Interior, but had yet to receive a response.
The judge remarked that the court had been making efforts for the recovery of the anchorperson and was also taking steps in order to protect him.
“The court should summon representatives from the Ministry of Interior so that the matter can be taken forward,” the IG said. He further said that Imran was not detained in any “police centre”.
The judge issued a stern warning to the IG, saying “I am giving you one more chance”. He further said that if any harm befell Imran, he would hold all responsible parties accountable.
Imran’s lawyer Azhar Siddique, meanwhile, said one of the individuals involved in the raid on journalist’s residence was also among those who apprehended him at the Sialkot airport.
Imran Riaz’s father gets emotional in court
During the hearing on May 19, the anchorperson’s father had become teary-eyed in the courtroom and had pleaded for mercy.
Muhammad pled his case before the LHC CJ, saying, “For God’s sake, have some mercy on your country. Don’t play with the law.
“It is clear as day. Everyone in this court is aware […] All of them know that they handed [him] over,” he added without naming anyone.
“This is the truth, this is the government of Pakistan, people go missing here. Have mercy, have mercy,” Muhammad said.
“His (Imran Riaz’s) crime was speaking the truth. Kill [him] for once so that our restlessness ends. I am the father who taught [him] to speak the truth. Feel my pain,” he added.