Ahmed Farhad Shah
Ahmed Farhad Shah

MUZAFFARABAD: The incarcerated Kashmiri poet and journalist, Ahmed Farhad Shah, was released from a sub-jail in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Friday evening following the acceptance of his bail application by the AJK High Court earlier in the day.

Mr Shah, who went missing from his Swan Garden residence in Islamabad on May 15, surprisingly resurfaced in Gujjar Kohala, a village at the AJK’s border with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, on May 29. His reappearance coincided with the hearing of a habeas corpus petition filed by his wife in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

In Gujjar Kohala, Mr Shah was taken into custody by Dhirkot police station of Bagh district for an offence under Section 186 of the Azad Penal Code (APC) — the AJK version of the Pakistan Penal Code — something the IHC was informed about by Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan the same day.

Later, in the afternoon, Mr Shah was transferred to Saddar police station in Muzaffarabad where he was wanted under an FIR, in which he was not a nominated accused.

Mr Shah’s bail application, submitted to the anti-terrorism court (ATC) of Muzaffarabad on May 30, was denied by Special Judge Mahmood Farooq on June 4, stating that legal arguments presented by his counsel did not apply to his case.

Subsequently, a bail petition was filed in the AJK High Court on June 11, where it was taken up by Chief Justice Sadaqat Hussain Raja himself on Friday.

In his six-page judgement, Justice Raja emphasised that bail decisions must be based on the evidence collected by the police during the investigation.

“The credibility, scrutiny, and truthfulness of the witnesses are to be assessed by the trial court during the evaluation of evidence after the trial’s conclusion,” he stated.

The chief justice noted that the FIR lodged by Saddar police station was initially against unknown persons for clashes between the public and law enforcement during a Joint Awami Action Committee (JAAC) procession.

Mr Shah was not named in the FIR and was arrested for allegedly posting provocative content on social media, particularly Facebook, between May 10 and 13, he added.

Justice Raja further noted that it had yet to be determined whether Mr Shah had caused any grievous violence, bodily harm, or substantial property damage, or if he had threatened or intimidated the government, the public, or any community. These allegations, he maintained, were contingent on the presentation of evidence.

The chief justice stated that the cyberterrorism charge was also subject to evidence of whether Mr Shah had disseminated content inducing fear or panic among the government, public, or community.

“Prima facie, the case of the accused/petitioner warrants further inquiry, and therefore he is entitled to the concession of bail,” he declared.

He stressed that the law should not favour either the defence or the prosecution in bail matters and added that, as a settled principle of law, bail could not be withheld as punishment, particularly where the court felt it was a case of further inquiry.

Accepting the bail application, he ordered Mr Shah’s immediate release upon furnishing a bail bond of Rs200,000 and a personal bond of the same amount, provided he was not required or involved in any other case or offence.

After completing the procedural formalities, Mr Shah was released by the authorities at around 6:30pm from Kahori police station on the outskirts of the state capital, which had been designated as a sub-jail.

The frail poet was received at the sub-jail by his brother, Syed Imran; wife, Syeda Zainab Urooj Naqvi; and some close friends.

When contacted by Dawn, Mr Imran said his brother was not feeling well and would avoid media interaction for some time.

Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2024

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