A Lahore district court on Friday sent anchorperson Imran Riaz, who was arrested last night, to jail in a corruption case.

Riaz was arrested late last night from his home, with visuals of the arrest going viral on social media. The PTI has decried the arrest and called for Riaz’s immediate release.

Riaz was presented before Judicial Magistrate Imran Abid by the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE). According to the ACE, Riaz and his father have been accused of securing a contract pertaining to Dharabi Lake in Chakwal at an inflated price.

The first information report (FIR) registered against Riaz, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, invoked Sections 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 161 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect to an official act) and 162 (taking gratification, in order by corrupt or illegal means to influence public servant) of the Pakistan Penal Code. It also invoked Section 5(2)47 (criminal misconduct) of the Prevention Of Corruption Act, 1947.

During the hearing, the ACE sought a 14-day physical remand of Riaz.

One of Riaz’s lawyers, Rana Maroof, said that the case filed against his client was against the law and false. He maintained that Riaz’s father never served as a government official.

Maroof argued that Riaz had not caused harm to the national treasury. “Imran Riaz was arrested like a terrorist,” he said.

Advocate Azhar Siddique, Riaz’s other lawyer, said that the anti-corruption authorities had neither evidence nor any documents to prove the allegations against his client.

During the hearing, Riaz said: “These people came to my house. I surrendered to them. I told them not to enter my home. They made me sit in the car and then entered my home. They searched my home for 15 minutes.”

He asserted that authorities were lying about the contract in question. “The previous contract was Rs11 million. We took this contract for an upwards of Rs4m,” he said.

He said that handcuffs were being slapped on his wrists in order to “pay salute to the queen” — an apparent reference to PML-N’s Maryam Nawaz, who has been nominated by the party for the slot of provincial chief minister.

“The queen is being made the chief minister after stealing the people’s votes,” he said. He called on authorities to show a single legal document which highlighted any form of corruption.

“What upsets me is the fact that my father has been called corrupt,” Riaz said, adding that his father was an honest man. He asked for his father to be removed from the first information report.

Riaz said that he had great hope from the judiciary, adding that he would continue to fight the “corrupt mafia”.

The anchorperson further stated that he had “borne all the cruelty” on his own. “If I am stuttering again today it is because my father was called corrupt,” he claimed.

“The institutions and their people are my own even if they beat me […] these are people from the ACE and they are doing their jobs,” Riaz said. “If they arrest me today, it is possible that some other people will meet me [in custody] and torture me.

“But I will bear that cruelty as well,” he told the court, recalling that his wife begged those who arrested him last night and kept asking why the anchorperson was being arrested. “I myself didn’t know why they were arresting me and who they were,” Riaz added.

He went on to say that he had surrendered himself but requested the authorities to not enter his house. “Yet, they entered my home and I don’t know what they did there,” Riaz said.

He also expressed hope that the country would recover one day, adding that Pakistan “will not stay like this forever”.

“Most of my journalist friends tell me to leave the country and purchase property abroad. But I tell them that I will stay in Pakistan as long as l am alive. Whatever I earned was spent in this country,” Riaz added.

Subsequently, the court reserved the verdict on the request for the anchorperson’s physical remand. Later, the judge rejected the ACE’s plea and sent Riaz to jail on judicial remand.

In the written order, the judicial magistrate said that the perusal of the record showed that the accused is “well nominated in the FIR and a specific role has been assigned to him”.

“Careful perusal of the record shows that all the necessary documents required for the purpose of investigation are already in the possession of the prosecution. Accused has already given all the necessary documents in the case to the investigation officer (IO) during the course of the inquiry,” the magistrate said.

He further noted that since nothing needed to be recovered from the accused, there was no need for granting physical remand.

“Hence, the request of the IO for granting 14 days physical remand is turned down and the accused is hereby sent to judicial lockup for 14 days,” he said, adding that Riaz should be presented before the court on March 8.

PTI decries ‘illegal arrest’, calls for Riaz’s release

Separately, the PTI said that Riaz had been “illegally arrested once again” and called for his release.

In a post on X, the party said that Riaz had “suffered enforced disappearance and custodial torture for many months, at the hands of the illegitimate, authoritarian, fascist regime”.

“Imran Riaz Khan is one of the journalists who has been consistently vocal against the regime’s atrocities and unlawful, unconstitutional activities,” the party said.

It said that recently, Riaz was “using his voice against the unprecedented, brazen electoral fraud, which stole the two-thirds majority mandate of Imran Khan’s PTI”.

PTI leader Omar Ayub Khan also strongly condemned the arrest. Calling Riaz an “independent minded journalist”, Omar said that he was abducted for months.

“He was released in a very weak state, and he suffered greatly during his ‘enforced disappearance’. This proves that there is no ‘rule of law’ in Pakistan,” he said.

2023 arrest

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 had told the Lahore High Court that the anchorperson was released from jail after taking an undertaking in writing. His whereabouts, however, remained unknown.

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 had also filed a plea in the LHC for his recovery.

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 the Punjab inspector general 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, the Punjab IG had told the LHC that phone numbers that had been traced back to Afghanistan were involved in the case.

The anchorperson’s lawyer had 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, the Punjab IG had 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 had assured the court that the probe was “going in the right direction”.

On September 20, the LHC had given the Punjab police chief a “last opportunity” to recover Riaz by September 26, adjourning the proceedings in a petition demanding his recovery till then.

He was finally released on September 25, after more than four months of “being missing”.

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