Gen Bajwa data leak: Court sends journalist to jail on judicial remand

By
Arfa Feroz Zake
Journalist Shahid Aslam. — Twitter/@ShahidAslam87
Journalist Shahid Aslam. — Twitter/@ShahidAslam87

  • Journalist produced in court after completion of physical remand. 
  • IO says Shahid Aslam's answers were unsatisfactory.
  • Counsel requests court to discharge journalist from case. 


ISLAMABAD: A local court in the federal capital Monday sent journalist Shahid Aslam — the reporter suspected of leaking tax data of former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa's family members — to jail on judicial remand.

The court's orders came after it rejected the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) plea seeking an extension in the journalist's physical remand.

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

The FIA's investigation officer, prosecutor Zulfiqar Naqvi and the journalist's counsel Mian Ashfaque appeared in the court. While the journalist's family was also present.

Hearing of case

During today's hearing, the court questioned the investigating officer regarding the case. At this, the IO said that the suspect did not give the password of his laptop and his answers were unsatisfactory.

He said that the laptop has been sent for forensics to get the password, adding that the forensics experts said that they will give the password in a couple of days. "Shahid Aslam was asked to cooperate and give the password, however, he refused," said the IO. 

Aslam confessed that he has been taking data from the Federal Board of Revenue of Pakistan (FBR), claimed the prosecutor. "The suspect has admitted to visiting the FBR to get the information," he added. 

The prosecutor said that the FIA requires the custody of the journalist to complete the investigation. Meanwhile, the counsel requested the court to discharge the journalist from the case. 

He said that Aslam'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," he asked.

After hearing arguments from both sides, the court sent the journalist on judicial remand and rejected the FIA's plea for an extension in his physical remand.

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.