close
Saturday June 22, 2024

Bajwa data leak: Journalist Shahid Aslam sent on physical remand

"Aslam didn't have his mobile phone. How did the FIA officials access his phone when they didn't have the password," argues his counsel

By Arfa Feroz Zake
January 17, 2023
Journalist Shahid Aslam. — Twitter/@Faizankhaan91 File
Journalist Shahid Aslam. — Twitter/@Faizankhaan91 File 

ISLAMABAD: A local court in Islamabad on Monday turned down a request of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for further physical custody of journalist Shahid Aslam in a case involving his report on tax data of former army chief General (retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa and sent him to jail on a 14-day physical remand.

The FIA arraigned Aslam in the court of Judicial Magistrate Umar Shabbir after the completion of his two-day physical remand which the court had granted to the FIA on January 14.

At the outset of today’s hearing, the FIA's investigation officer, prosecutor Zulfiqar Naqvi and Aslam’s counsel Mian Ashfaque and the journalist’s family were present in the courtroom.

Today’s hearing

During the course of proceedings, the investigation officer apprised the court that the suspect did not provide the password of his laptop. He maintained that the journalist’s answers to the queries were “unsatisfactory”.

The officer maintained that the suspect’s laptop has been sent for forensics to get the password, adding that it will take couple of days to get the password.

"Shahid Aslam was asked to cooperate and give the password, however, he refused," the IO said.

During the interrogation, the suspect admitted that he obtained the data from the officials of the Federal Board of Revenue of Pakistan (FBR), the prosecutor told the court.

The prosecutor pleaded with the court to extend the physical remand of the suspect as the FIA requires the custody of the journalist to complete the investigation.

Giving his arguments, Aslam's counsel said that his client’s WhatsApp status was "online" yesterday and a day before it.

"Aslam didn't have his mobile phone. How did the FIA officials access his phone when they didn't have the password," argued the lawyer.

He pleaded with the court to discharge him from the case.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the court sent the journalist on judicial remand and adjourned the hearing.

The issue

On November 21, 2022, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar took notice of the "illegal and unwarranted" leakage of tax information Gen (retd) Bajwa's family.

"This is clearly a violation of the complete confidentiality of tax information that the law provides," a statement from the Finance Division read.

A day later, Dar shared that he has received the interim report related to the leak of Gen (retd) Bajwa’s income tax records, adding that the authorities have traced some people involved in the act.

The finance czar shared that one person involved in the leak is from Lahore and another from Rawalpindi.

However, he added that there is a possibility that some of the individuals involved may have the authorisation to look at the income tax records as there is a "circle" in Rawalpindi where assessments take place.

Later on December 2, 2022, the FBR suspended two officers — Zahoor Ahmed and Atif Nawaz Warraich — for four months for their alleged involvement in the data leakage. They are now facing charges.

AEMEND slams FIA 

In its statement, the Association of Electronic Media Editors and News Directors (AEMEND) condemned the FIA’s pressure on journalist Aslam for disclosing his source of news.

AEMEND, in the statement, observed that cases were being lodged against the journalists unabated in the guise of cybercrime to gag their voices.

Despite clear orders from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) about the journalists, the investigation agency did not change its approach, read the statement.

“Shahid Aslam was not only arrested without issuing any notice but he is being pressurised to disclose his source of news which is intolerable,” warned the media body.

Obtaining information is the professional responsibility of the journalist, AEMEND said, adding that lodging cases for fulfilling the duty are nothing but “suppressing the freedom of expression”.

The media body urged the government to take practical steps regarding the fake cases.

In view of the situation, AEMEND said that it was contacting other media organisations so that the joint stance of the media could be reiterated forcefully.