ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE ':
The country’s politics veered into more uncertain territory on Wednesday after PTI’s central leader Fawad Chaudhry was arrested on sedition charges from Lahore, stoking more tensions as the former ruling party remains undeterred in its course against the government.
The arrest of the outspoken critic of the ruling PDM coalition during a predawn raid at his house potentially delivered a blow to the party in which he serves as vice president.
Later in the night, an Islamabad court handed over the PTI leader to police in a two-day physical remand -- after he was arrested for “inciting violence against a constitutional institution”.
The investigating officer of the case had sought an eight-day physical remand but the court rejected his request.
Fawad was taken into custody on Wednesday morning after an FIR was registered against him at Islamabad’s Kohsar police station by an official of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for “threatening” members of the commission, including the chief, and their families.
The reserved judgment was announced by duty magistrate Naveed Khan, who adjourned the hearing till January 27.
After his arrest from outside his residence in Lahore, Fawad was taken to its Cantt Court, where the judicial magistrate granted the police the PTI leader's transit remand.
Other charges include obstruction in the electoral process, disputing the nomination of Punjab’s caretaker chief minister, and spreading hatred among the people.
As per the complaint lodged in the case, Fawad described the status of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja as that of a “clerk”, who stamps orders conveyed to him.
The complaint elaborates how the PTI leader had contested the appointment of Mohsin Naqvi as the caretaker chief minister while threatening the commission, and those it comprises. It further mentions how Fawad incited the people against them.
As per the complaint, Fawad alleged that all those involved in the events of May 25, those “who committed the worst violation of human rights” were being brought back.
It elaborates that Fawad said that those individuals should not be posted in Punjab, but if they were indeed posted there, then the members of the Election Commission, their families and these individuals were being “warned”.
“If a series of abuses happened to us, you will have to pay back for this series of abuses,” the First Information Report (FIR) quoted the PTI leader as saying.
“This speech has created a permanent threat to the lives of Election Commission members and their families,” the report added.
“This speech of Fawad Chaudhary has also expressed hatred against the caretaker chief minister of Punjab and his constitutional government,” the FIR mentioned. “Due to this, disdain and mistrust have been created among the people against the constitutional government.”
It further stated that in order to create hatred and enmity between the people and institutions, the CEC, other members and their families were threatened to prevent a constitutional body like the ECP from performing its duties.
The complaint alleges that Fawad tried to influence the upcoming election process which is a serious crime.
During the hearing before Islamabad’s duty magistrate Naveed, the ECP lawyer informed the court that Fawad had described the commission as a “munshi” (clerk).
He added that the ECP was a constitutional body and the “regime-change narrative” had been chalked out as part of a plan.
The ECP lawyer argued that Fawad’s remarks were aimed at inciting one group against the other.
He maintained that the ECP had received many threatening letters. “The purpose of Fawad’s speech was to promote hatred against the ECP,” he added.
The lawyer lamented that instead of feeling any regret, the PTI leader was still standing by his comments.
“There is a great deal of “electronic evidence against him [Fawad], he added.
Fawad asked the judge to throw out the case against him as he had done nothing wrong but only expressed his right to criticise.
“If this carries on in the country, democracy and freedom of expression will no longer exist,” he added.
Fawad claimed that whatever he said was on his party’s behalf as he was its spokesperson.
He added that it was necessary that he agreed with whatever he said.
The PTI leader’s lawyers, Naeem Bokhari and Qaiser Imam contended that the FIR should have been registered in Lahore and their client should also be tried there as the alleged crime had been committed in the city.
The judge later reserved his verdict in the case.
A plea was filed in the Lahore High Court by Fawad’s cousin against the arrest.
The Punjab government, provincial police officer, counter-terrorism department, deputy inspector general of police (operations) and SHO of Defence A were named as respondents in the case.
The petitioner argued that his cousin was arrested “illegally, unconstitutionally and without legal authority.”
He pleaded the court to issue directions to police officials to recover his cousin from the “illegal and unlawful confinement” and produce him before the high court.
However, an LHC bench, headed by Justice Tariq Saleem, rejected the plea noting that Fawad’s detention was “not illegal”.
The hearing was adjourned at least four times as the judge repeatedly directed authorities to present the PTI leader before the court.
At the start of the hearing, Justice Sheikh instructed the police to present Fawad in court by 1:30pm.
However, when the proceedings resumed at 2pm, Punjab Advocate General Chaudhry Muhammad Jawad Yaqub told the court that he was unaware about the PTI leader’s whereabouts.
PTI lawyer Azhar Siddique told the bench that they had just learnt that Fawad was being taken to Islamabad.
Justice Sheikh remarked that his orders must be implemented and even if Fawad had reached Islamabad, bring him back to Lahore and present him before this court.
The Punjab advocate general replied that his orders would be implemented and sought some time to make it happen.
After that, there was a 30-minute break in court proceedings after which the judge again asked the Punjab advocate general as to where Fawad was.
The Punjab advocate general replied that the PTI leader was in the custody of the Islamabad police. After that, the LHC summoned both the Islamabad and Punjab police chiefs to the court immediately.
Punjab IG Dr Usman Anwar told the court that Fawad was not in the custody of the Punjab police. He added that in fact Fawad was being held by the Islamabad police.
The Punjab advocate general presented a copy of the case registered against Fawad.
“On the basis of this FIR, the Islamabad police got in touch with the relevant police station in Lahore to make the arrest,” he said, adding that a local court had then granted police the PTI leader’s transitory remand.
Fawad’s lawyer Siddique told the court that he wanted his “kidnapped client” to be presented before the court.
“I have never before witnessed this where the court issues directives for producing someone four times and the person is not presented,” he added.
Justice Shiekh asked Fawad’s lawyer what exactly he wanted from the court.
“We want the court’s directives to be followed and for Fawad to be produced before the court. We want the arrest to be declared illegal,” the lawyer replied.
“What is illegal in Fawad Chaudhry’s arrest?” Justice Sheikh inquired.
“He was arrested and then presented before a relevant court in Lahore,” the judge added.
He told Fawad’s lawyer to approach the Islamabad High Court against his client’s arrest and subsequently dismissed the petition.
Speaking to reporters outside the Lahore ‘s Cantt Court, Fawad said those who had arrested him should be ashamed of themselves.
“They have deployed so much police as if they are escorting James Bond,” he added.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Fawad said his own morale was high but what was happening in the country did not bode well for it.
“These people want that nobody who mentions the name of Imran Khan remains. This struggle actually belongs to the Kaptaan, we are merely standing by his side,” he added.
Fawad hoped that Imran would succeed in his struggle.
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