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September 12, 2020

Journalist Bilal Farooqi arrested for ‘inflammatory social media content’

Karachi

September 12, 2020

Police arrested journalist and social media activist Bilal Farooqi during a raid on his residence in Defence View on Friday evening.

Farooqi has been charged with spreading hatred and maligning state institutions. He has been arrested by the investigation wing of the Defence police station that falls in District South, two days after an FIR was registered against him.

“A total of four – two in plainclothes and two in police uniform -- came to our home. Our landlord approached us and told that the police is conducting a survey in the area and checking the CNICs of all,” Farooqi’s wife Tashfeen Farooqi told The News.

She said her husband was asleep at that time, and she woke him up. As soon as Farooqi went outside to show his CNIC, they took him away to an undisclosed location. Shortly after that, Tashfeen said, one policeman in uniform and three plainclothes personnel again visited their home and asked for Farooqi’s cell phone. “They [cops] told me that they would arrange a telephonic conversation with Bilal. I talked to Bilal over the cell phone. He just told me I am at the Defence police station and I have no idea why I have been arrested.”

Farooqi’s wife claimed that he was not being detained at the police station and had been shifted to an undisclosed location. According to the FIR, Javed Khan, a machine operator in a factory in Landhi, has accused Farooqi of spreading hatred through his Twitter and Facebook accounts. The police have placed multiple sections in the FIR, which includes Section 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code and sections 11 (hate speech) and 20 (harming the reputation or privacy of a natural person) of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016.

A person can be imprisoned for up to seven years if convicted under Section 505. Section 11 is punishable by a jail term of seven years. Section 20 is punishable by a jail term of three and/or a fine of Rs1 million.

The FIR says Farooqi was posting “extremely provocative” content based on “religious hatred” on Facebook and Twitter. The complainant said he had gone to Master’s Juice in Defence Phase II-Extension, where he logged into his Facebook and Twitter accounts and saw Farooqi had posted provocative content against a state institution and spread religious hatred, which, the complainant alleged, the journalist did on a regular basis.

SHO Muhammad Ali said the police had registered a case on September 9 while the arrest was made by the investigation wing on Friday. Farooqi, who is currently working as news editor at The Express Tribune, was vocal about social justice and denounced through his social media accounts religious fanaticism.

Section 505 of the Pakistan Penal Code reads: “Whoever makes, publishes, or circulates any statement, rumour or report: (a) with intent to cause or incite, or which is likely to cause or incite, any officer, soldier, sailor, or airman in the Army, Navy or Air Force of Pakistan to mutiny, offence or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or (b) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity; or (c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and with fine.”

However, Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure says: “Prosecution for offences against the State. No Court shall take cognizance of any offence punishable under Chapter VI or IXA of the Pakistan Penal Code (except section 127), or punishable under section 108A, or section 153A, or section 294A, or section 295A or section 505 of the same Code, unless upon complaint made by order of, or under authority from, the Central Government, or the Provincial Government concerned, or some officer empowered in this behalf by either of the two Governments.”

KUJ slams arrest

The Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) strongly condemned Farooqi’s arrest and the registration of a false and fabricated case against him. In a statement, it said the arrest was part of the ongoing nefarious and concerted campaign to gag free and independent voices in the country.

The KUJ observed that Farooqi, an active journalist who also remained a member of its executive committee, was an educated and responsible youth, who never indulged in any kind of violation of Pakistani laws. “His only crime is that he dissents with ruling elites and raises his voice for the betterment and a progressive society,” remarked Ashraf Khan, the KUJ president.

Ahmed Khan Malik, the secretary general of the KUJ, demanded his immediate release. He said his organisation demanded withdrawal of false charges against Farooqi and his immediate release.