An Islamabad district court on late Wednesday night granted police a two-day physical remand of Fawad Chaudhry, PTI leader and a close aide to former prime minister Imran Khan.
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry was arrested on Wednesday morning outside his residence in Lahore for alleged sedition, among other charges, over a complaint filed by the secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
ECP Chief Secretary, Omar Hamid Khan, filed a police case against Fawad and alleged that Fawad “threatened” the chief election commissioner, other members of the election commission, and their families during a TV interview.
Fawaf defended himself before the judge, seeking the dismissal of the case. “They [the police] have charged me with sedition for the criticism, if this happens then freedom of speech will cease to exist in this country,” he said. He implied that criticism is more or less considered sedition now.
His lawyers, Ali Bukhari and Qaiser Imam, also urged the court to dismiss the case. “The court needs to examine if the charges slapped [against Fawad Hussain] were even applicable in the case,” Bukhari said.
The ECP’s lawyer, Saad Hassan, defended the charges against Hussain, saying the electoral watchdog was a constitutional body and the accused threatened its members of dire consequences in his speech.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the judge reserved the verdict and later granted the police two-day physical remand of Hussain for interrogation.
The arrest comes amid tense ties between PTI and ECP. Imran Khan’s party PT accuses the ECP of being “biased” and in favor of the current coalition government led by Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif. The ECP denies these allegations.
PTI lawmakers, political analysts and journalists are questioning the rationale behind Fawad’s arrest. Journalists condemned Fawad’s arrest and demanded his release. Journalist Mazhar Abbas wrote that people have “a right to disagree.”
Analyst Arif Rafiq commented: “As Pakistan comes closer to default, its rulers choose the path of political escalation, arresting a senior opposition figure. It seems as if they are bent on setting the house on fire. Time to talk about worst-case scenarios.”
Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Fawad’s arrest was a “hard slap on the face of democracy and rule of law” in the country.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington, also condemned the arrest, commenting that “If Islamabad fought inflation and debt with as much rigor as it is fighting the opposition, it would have vanquished the economic crisis many moons ago”.
Lawyer Ahmad Pansota said that “Registration of FIR for criticizing ECP by Fawad Chaudhry is a gross abuse of power and a true example of criminalizing freedom of speech. Registration of FIR is in gross violation of Articles, amongst others, 10A, 14, and 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973”.