The Lahore High Court (LHC) adjourned proceedings for a week in the petition demanding the recovery of missing anchorperson Imran Riaz after the Punjab police chief assured the court that the investigation was “going in the right direction”.

Imran Riaz — a YouTuber and television anchor — was arrested two days after violent protests broke out across the country following PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9. He was last known to be taken to Cantt police station after his arrest and later to the Sialkot prison. On May 15, a law officer told the court that the anchorperson was released from jail after taking an undertaking in writing. His whereabouts remain unknown.

Imran Riaz was among a number of journalists who were taken into custody following the May 9 protests.

Subsequently, a first information report (FIR) of Riaz’s alleged abduction was registered with Sialkot Civil Lines police 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.

The journalist’s father also filed a plea in the Lahore High Court for his recovery.

In the previous hearing on September 6, conducted by LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti, the Punjab Inspector General (IG) Dr Usman Anwar said there was “positive progress” in the case.

“We will give good news in the next 10 to 15 days,” he had told the court. The hearing was then adjourned till today.

Today, Justice Bhatti inquired about the case’s progress from the Punjab IG after he reached court. The petitioner and his lawyer Mian Ali Ashfaq were also present.

“We, upon the order of the court, have met Imran Riaz’s father and his lawyer. They have been updated regarding the progress of the case. We are going in the right direction on the matter,” said IG Anwar, adding that the courts can confirm the development with the petitioner’s lawyer.

The lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, acknowledged the Punjab IG’s testimony and told the court that the investigation was going in the correct direction.

The hearing was then adjourned till September 20.

Imran Riaz’s father, while speaking to the press outside, stated that he would only be satisfied once he saw his son standing in front of him.

“They are saying that they have reached really close; they give us new hope every time, and we are grateful to them,” he said while giving an interview to Voice of America.

Previous proceedings

During a May 19 hearing of the case, the anchorperson’s father had become teary-eyed in the LHC, pleading for mercy, as the whereabouts of his son remained unknown. The next day, the LHC chief justice had ordered the police to recover and present the anchorperson by May 22.

On that date, the LHC had directed the ministries of interior and defence to “discharge their constitutional duties to effect the recovery” of the anchorperson after Punjab IG Anwar revealed that there was no trace of the journalist at any police department across the country.

The LHC was subsequently informed that both the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Military Intelligence had said the anchorperson was not in their custody. On May 26, the high court had directed “all the agencies” to work together to find the anchorperson and produce him in the court by May 30.

When that date arrived, IG Anwar told the LHC that phone numbers which had been traced back to Afghanistan were involved in the case.

The anchorperson’s lawyer contended in the June 6 hearing that their patience was “wearing thin” even as the Punjab government had informed the high court that efforts to find the journalist were underway.

During the July 5 hearing, the LHC had established a deadline of July 25 for the police to locate the missing journalist. However, no hearing could be held on the designated date due to the bench’s unavailability.

In that particular hearing, retired Brigadier Falak Naz, representing the Ministry of Defence, had informed the court: “We are working on tracing locations and other issues. We are trying to recover Imran Riaz as soon as possible.”

For his part, Riaz’s lawyer Mian Ashfaq Ali had said, “All the institutions are working to find Imran Riaz and we are hopeful that he will soon be recovered.”

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