IHC grills FIA, issues notice to director over Baig's arrest

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday grilled the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for abusing its powers to arrest Mohsin Baig, an analyst, for making defamatory remarks against a federal minister on a TV show.

The court, however, dismissed the pleas filed by Baig's lawyer against the terror case, saying the matter will be heard by the relevant court while it also issued a contempt notice to the FIA cybercrime director for abusing powers to arrest the media personality.

The FIA had registered a case against Baig at Communications Minister Murad Saeed's request, days after the former made an unethical and disparaging remark against the latter during a private TV channel programme. The panellists were discussing Murad’s ministry receiving a top performance award by Prime Minister Imran Khan recently.

The programme received heavy criticism from government quarters, and the channel was also served a show-cause notice by the media regulator.

During the hearing of a plea filed by Baig's lawyer Latif Khosa, Islamabad Advocate General Niazullah Niazi said Baig was booked for alleged torture of FIA officials.

“Baig also scuffled with the police officials at the police station and strongly resisted his arrest,” Niazi informed the bench.

“Even if someone barged into their house unlawfully, why did Baig take the law into his hands," said CJ Minallah. “Whatever his defence is in this regard, he should present it in the relevant trial court,” the IHC CJ said, adding that no one could take the law into their hands.

Justice Minallah also expressed displeasure over the absence of the FIA representative during the hearing, saying, “Who is this FIA director who doesn’t care for the Constitution and rule of law.”

“This is not a matter of just one citizen, this issue pertains to fundamental rights,” the judge added. After the court notice, FIA Cyber Crime Director Babar Bakht appeared before the bench

While addressing Bakht, Justice Minallah said the FIA director had assured the court that it would not abuse its power to make such arrests. “How long has this court been giving you the opportunity, [but] in every case you are abusing your authority.”

He further asked the FIA director to tell the court where and when did the agency receive the complaint. Bakht said that FIA had received the complaint in Lahore.

Justice Minallah asked whether the FIA had conducted an inquiry into the matter before arresting the accused. “Did you do all this just because the complaint was lodged by a federal minister,” he asked.

The IHC CJ asked how many individuals were part of the TV panel, asking why the other guests had not been arrested. “Defamations laws are being decriminalised across the world but in Pakistan, criminal laws are being used to protect the public officials,” he added.

The judge further asked what was so defamatory regarding the reference to Reham Khan’s book. “How can you call it [the allusion to the book] defamatory,” he asked.

In his response, the FIA director alluded that the book itself is defamatory. “I have told you every time, do not act like this. Did they mention the page number during the programme,” the CJ asked. The FIA director said no. “Then how can you say it is defamatory. You tried to defraud this court,” the IHC CJ remarked.

The FIA director referred to the agency inspector allegedly injured during the scuffle with Baig and his sons and said, “We too are your children.”

“Neither you are my children nor I am your father. You are not here to protect me but to serve the public. How many complaints are pending with the agency,” the CJ further grilled the director.

“At least 14,000 complaints are pending,” he responded.

“You had assured the courts that the FIA would follow protocols during arrests,” Justice Minallah said, adding that the sections inserted in the FIR also embarrassed the complainant, Murad Saeed.

“Is there a martial law in this country,” he asked the FIA official, seeking an explanation about the agency's conduct.

The court will direct action against you, the judge further said. Just because the complainant was a minister, you ignored all SOPs to make the arrest, he added. “We are summoning the attorney general to defend you as the court will initiate proceedings against you,” Justice Minallah said further.

Justice Minallah further inquired why the cybercrime law was used to arrest the accused when the incident in question happened on electronic media. “The clip was shared on social media,” the FIA director responded. “Did Mohsin Baig share it on social media that you have arrested him,” the judge questioned.

There were other people as well but why did you send your team to arrest just one person. The FIA director responded that Baig started the discussion by referring to the book authored by Reham Khan, ex-wife of PM Imran Khan.

“What was offensive about the discussion,” the judge asked. The director responded that the referral itself was offensive, prompting laughter in the courtroom.

The CJ responded that this was a “classic case” of FIA’s abuse of power. “If you refer to a book then that is vulgar [as per FIA], but the breaking the Constitution is most vulgar,” he added. “This is not a crime that warrants arrest,” the judge added.

Read FIA requests PEMRA to ban ex-DG's TV interviews

During the hearing, Justice Minallah said the court was not concerned with the case against Baig, but the conduct of the FIA during the arrest.

He said Pakistan ranked at the 8th spot among countries that were not safe for journalists and asked if the agency wanted to take the country back to the stone age.

Justice Minallah said the FIA, instead of doing its job, is “busy in protecting the honour of elected officials”.

The IHC chief justice also said the conduct of the federal agency and the cases against Baig were two different issues and the IHC will only concern itself with the former one.

The other cases against Baig will be heard by the respective trial court, he said, while dismissing the petition.

Contempt case against FIA director

Baig’s lawyer Latif Khosa said his client acted in self-defence as unknown persons barged into his house and added that Baig was beaten at the police station as well.

Khosa said had the FIA not carried out the illegal raid, the firing incident would not have happened. “If someone enters my house in plain clothes, does a citizen then not have the right to defend himself?”

"If someone comes to my house and introduces themselves as FIA personnel and ask me to come with them, I will go with them," said the IHC CJ.

“The FIA cybercrime director should submit an affidavit, explaining why this court should not initiate contempt proceedings against him,” he further added.

The court adjourned the case till Feb 24.

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