The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday gave the Punjab police chief a “last opportunity” to recover missing anchorperson Imran Riaz Khan by September 26, adjourning the proceedings in a petition demanding his recovery till then.

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.

Subsequently, a first information report (FIR) of Imran’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 Imran, 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 LHC for his recovery.

In the previous hearing on September 13 — about a week after he had promised good news — Punjab Inspector General (IG) Dr Usman Anwar had told the court that the investigation was “going in the right direction”.

Today, LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti presided over the hearing of Riaz’s petition. IG Anwar and Riaz’s lawyer, Mian Ali Ashfaq, both appeared before the court.

At the request of the Punjab IG to be given time till next week, the court granted him time till September 26 and adjourned the hearing till then.

The court order issued later stated, “This last opportunity on the request of IG Punjab is granted to produce the detenue namely Muhammad Imran Riaz, failing which proceedings will be initiated in accordance with law.”

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Bhatti asked the Punjab IG where the “abductee” was, to which the latter replied, “There has been a meeting of the joint working group. There will also be another meeting.”

The LHC CJ then said that in his opinion, “proceedings should be started now” against the police, at which IG Anwar requested the court to give him a “chance”.

Here, Justice Bhatti remarked, “It has been five months now. My patience has run out.”

At this, the IG informed the court that the provincial intelligence chief was not present in Lahore, hence, the working group’s next meeting will be held on Friday (September 22).

IG Anwar then requested the court to grant him time till next week, to which Riaz’s lawyer said, “If the court gives [them] only 24 hours, then we have no objection.”

“We have lost our patience as well,” the petitioner’s lawyer added.

Subsequently, the LHC granted the Punjab IG a “last opportunity” till September 26 to recover the missing anchorperson, and adjourned the hearing till then.

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 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.”

On September 6, IG Anwar told LHC that the police would deliver “good news” in the next few days, following which he was granted time till September 13.

However, failing to deliver any major “good news”, the IG on September 13 assured the court that the probe was “going in the right direction”.

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