Shahzaib Gillani Case & Misuse of Cybercrime Law

Ghulam Mustafa 

It was a sunny and warm afternoon – but the air conditioner had ensured that the temperature was bearable. Sitting behind the elongated table, placed at the center of the room, the FBI officer had a sign of trepidation on his face. The officer pressed the call bell and his Personal Assistant (PA) immediately opened the door. In a voice that showcased the fact that his mind was elsewhere, the officer demanded that the Assistant Director Legal as well as the sub inspector Akbar Khan Mehsud be presented. After a short while both AD Legal and the sub inspector were brought in front of the officer. The officer rolled out two pieces of paper and handed them over to both the gentlemen – for them to read. Both read them closely and then started looking at their boss – out of despair. The officer said that on this paper a case, against a journalist, needs to be registered. “What is your opinion?” he asked. It was as if both answered simultaneously, saying that according to law, no case can be lodged against them and neither is there any chance of an inquiry being carried out over this case.

The officer nodded to both gentlemen and then asked them to leave. Two of the FIA’s most powerful gentlemen, left their chairs and left the room.

A day later, the officer was looking through files when suddenly, he received a phone call. When he looked carefully, the words “Unknown Number” came up. With a heavy heart, the office received the call. The receiver on the other end, talking in superior position, asked whether based on the application submitted a case had been filed or not – with your reference. The officer replied in a sure manner that both the Assistant Director of the Legal Department of FIA and the investigation officer have voiced their opinion that no case can be filed on such an application. With that being said, the officer went silent.

In an angry and concerning voice, the person who made the call voiced his opinion that these guys are unable to raise an FIR. “What is the use of having you as the Deputy Director on this post, if you are unable to raise an FIR? Let us know and we will have you replaced with a substitute.” The phone was cut thereafter. Out of curiosity, the FIA officer calls up his inspector and tells him that you had informed him that for such an incident an FIR cannot be registered. However, I am under pressure from the authorities to either raise an FIR or vacate my post immediately.

On the other hand, the sub-inspector stated that if this is an issue so there is a possibility of raising an FIR – even though today is a public holiday. It is then that the FIA inspector registers an FIR numbered 6/2016 and signs it himself before placing it on the desk of the deputy inspector for his signature.

This historic FIR was registered against the renowned journalist – Shahzaib Gillani, who has worked for BBC London and Deutsche Valley Germany and is currently working as an editor on Dunya News for ‘Aaj Kamran Khan Kay Saath’ show. This FIR registered by FIA showcases how strictly the rule of law is followed in Pakistan and is slap on the faces of all justice-seekers in this country.

The FIR had been registered but in the meanwhile, Shahzaib had left for Tharparker to cover the inauguration of the Thar Coal Power Plant. Enroute, the journalist shared a picture of him standing in a farm of lilies.

The deputy director was still concerned about his employment at this time. He quickly looked up Shahzaib’s picture on his Facebook page and informed his inspector that the suspect is at large in Badin and needs to be arrested immediately.

Once Shahzaib was back in Karachi, it did not take long for journalists to assess the situation and information of his imminent arrest spread like wildfire. Shahzaib also got to know himself that a case had been lodged against him. He immediately contacted one of the best known lawyers Munir A Malik and was able to get a temporary bail from the district and session judge at the south court.

Senior journalist Shahzaib Gillani had been indicted on not only a false and unlawful FIR but his family also received calls claiming that he (Shahzaib) should be restraint from making such bland and bold comments on television. His comments are a threat to national security. Has a country ever been under threat from comments of a journalist – when he tries his best to speak and utter the truth?

In the history of Pakistan, in accordance to the Electronic Crime Act, this is a case of unique perspectives. The request to put forward this case was made by Maulvi Iqbal Haider – who is not allowed in the vicinity of the courts of the Supreme Court. The entire scenario took shape when Shahzaib tweeted when General Faiz Hameed received a medal in an award ceremony. This is the same General Faiz Hameed who was seen to be handing out envelopes to protestors of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik movement. These scenes were witnessed by the entire nation on TV. For this purpose, the Supreme Court appointed Faiz Essi – who released his fact finding report which stated that the institution needs to be held accountable.

Shahzaib had tweeted that instead of making a model out of such a gentlemen, he should be put up for trial. Alas, this was not taken well by the people higher up in the hierarchy – who then sought to bring him (Shahzaib) to level par, for him trying to intimidate the general public. We’ll show you what a trail is – when we’ll make sure that you move from one court to the other and climb those stairs over and over again.

The case was registered and a journalist was made to make appearances in court – over and over again.

This was not it. The higher authorities pressurized Shahzaib’s employers to such an extent that they were forced into asking him for his resignation. Even a journalist like Kamran Khan could not even save the job of his peer, whom he had brought back from BBC headquarters in London after long hours of convincing. It shows that in Pakistan – when someone tries to speak the truth, tries to speak about it openly, he will be dealt with in the harshest manner – by even losing his job. What they do not know is that earning is in the hands of the Almighty and not us.

An important aspect of this case is the fact that this case put forward key points of Cyber Terrorism – as per stated in the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act division 10/A, 11 and 20. Additionally, division 34/109 of the PPC was also indicted on Shahzaib, although all of these divisions are against the Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan – which calls for freedom of speech to all. Any law can never contradict the constitution now, can it? In this case, it seems that the law is being made to be against the journalistic community to strangulate their throats and send them a message.

Incident Summary: A journalist never breaks the law. He is one of the most knowledgeable persons in a society who tends to spread this truth over to his fellow peers. Without notice, Shahzaib was called upon to record his statement in which it was told that we respect the armed forces of this country and as a citizen of this country it is our right to show them respect despite having the ‘freedom of speech’ too vouch for us. After receiving a bail from the district and session judge’s court – Shahzaib presented himself in front of the judicial magistrate south’s court to face trail. The interesting part is that even 14 days after the case had been registered, the FIA did not notify the court nor did they submit a copy of their FIR complaint. The alleged journalist, even without an FIR presented himself before the courts. He was then also issued a show-cause notice by the court as well.

By looking into the recorded books of the trial, we can see that to apply and receive a bail from the Civil Judge’s court – Shahzaib had to present himself no less than five times. The prosecutors did not bother showing up for the trial. Despite numerous warnings, no evidence was presented and ultimately the court ruled on May 2, that because of a lack of evidence against the alleged, he will be given bail. The incident over which the accused is being held took place more than 14 months ago, so he will be granted bail.

On the other hand, the prosecutors did not show up once for the trial while the journalist showed up no less than eight (8) times. The FIA maintained all challans up till the last hearing of the case – when they lifted all challans apart from clause 20 – which they did not let go. The court finally, on May 16, asked the FIA prosecutors and the case investigation officer as to how had they reneged all other challans apart from the one that was left standing? Plus the one that has been left standing will not be enough to warrant an FIR against the accused.

Abdul Hamid Memon, judicial magistrate South One on the 18th of May, in the presence of the accused Shahzaib Gillani and his lawyer Ghulam Bashir Balyadi released the verdict of the case. Even at the time when the verdict was announced, no investigation officer from the FIA, no prosecutor or witness was present. The judge in an open court pardoned the accused of all misdemeanor and allowed him to walk away free and unscathed.

The court in its five-page report stated that because all other challans had been reneged and only clause 20 had been left standing, an FIR could not be lodged against the accused. Also, the person accused in this case did not bother showing up once for any of the hearings – which would not allow for an FIR to be lodged. Furthermore, nobody from his department also showed up at any of the hearings, so an FIR cannot be lodged.  According to PICA section 20, this is a non-cognizable act. The final challan submitted by the investigation officer of the FIA did not contain any information which stated that the work carried out by the accused led to any crime. Therefore, the court discredits the FIR lodged against Shahzaib and allows him to walk out of here – a free man.

In this entire episode, an eminent journalist of this country was abused. A journalist who respects the courts, the justice system and law enforcement and who maintains a check and balance on his freedom of speech in accordance to the law of the constitution. This case presents an example of how for personal vendetta and grievance, the justice system of this country is manipulated. A comprehensive institution like the FIA, its workforce, its capabilities, and its resources were all used in the wrong manner to silence the voices of journalists nationally.

According to our investigation, no single department was involved in making up of this case – but a few people up in the hierarchy were involved in their ‘personal capacity’ of waging a case against Shahzaib – which in reality is a question on the security situation of this country itself.

This law has not just been used against Shahzaib but has been put into effect against other journalists as well. According to sources, Talat Hussain also had a similar case framed against him by the FIA on a similarly written application request.

It is to be remembered though that a journalist always looks for the truth and does not settle until he has achieved his goal of revealing what the truth is.

Even when the situation does not favor us – speaking the truth is what matters the most. It is commendable that people are out there who use their fingers as pens to reflect and depict what the actual truth is – even if it means they are placing their lives at risk. On this route, these people serve as the guiding lights in guiding us when there is no light at the end of this tunnel. In this day and age, Shahzaib is a shining star of our world. He is the salt of this world because of which the taste of journalism has remained intact amongst the forthcoming generation. About such people, a famous poet says,

شام غم  ، ظلمت شب ، صبح الم بولتے ہیں

جب کوئی اور نہیں  بولتا ، ہم بولتے ہیں

بول جب بند تھے سب کے تو ہم ہی بولتے تھے

بولتا  کوئی نہیں آج بھی،   ہم ہی  بولتے  ہیں

دیدہ ور ،اہل صفا ،  اہل جنوں  چپ ہی رہے

سچ کو لکھتے ، جو ہوئے ہاتھ قلم   بولتے  ہیں

Until the process of speaking the truth continues, the process of knowing and identifying will continue. The prayers of the millions of us for those seeking the truth will keep them safe.

Caption: Journalist Shahzaib Jilani (third from L) is consulting legal team on premises of a court in Karachi.

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