Senior Pakistani journalist with BOL News, Shahid Aslam, has been granted bail following his arrest for his alleged role in leaking the financial data of a former army chief. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), in condemning the Pakistani authorities’ intimidation of the journalists and urging the government to withdraw all cases against Aslam.
At an Islamabad Session Court on January 18, BOL News journalist Shahid Aslam was granted bail after being charged under Section 216 of the Pakistan Penal Code. Special Judge Muhammad Azam Khan allowed the senior journalist a release on bail with PKR 50,000 (approx. USD 219) owed.
Aslam was originally detained for two days by agents from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) without prior notice in Lahore on January 13 for his alleged involvement in the leaking of tax records of former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The records were used in a November report by investigative news outlet FactFocus which accused Bajwa and his family of acquiring assets worth PKR 12,700,000,000 (approximately USD 55,544,622) over the past six years, substantiated by tax declarations and other financial details belonging to Bajwa and his family. Authorities have claimed these records were attained illegally.
In his initial trial on January 16 trial, Pakistani authorities criticised Aslam’s ‘unsatisfactory’ replies to FIA enquiries and his failure to provide passwords to his laptop or phone. Aslam’s legal representation challenged the legitimacy of the case, calling the prosecution’s evidence ‘dubious’ and urging them to present evidence of the alleged illegal data transfer.
Aslam’s attorney argued that as the journalists’ WhatsApp had been active while confiscated by FIA officers, the authorities’ claims of not having access to Aslam’s passwords were illegitimate.
Before achieving bail, Aslam was to be placed on 14-day judicial remand, in line with a court order at his January 16 trial. Both Aslam and FactFocus have denied claims of his involvement in the fact-finding stage of the report.
PFUJ President, GM Jamali, and Secretary General, Rana Azeem, said, “ThePFUJ strongly condemns the arrest of any journalist for performing their professional duty, floating information for the people of Pakistan. The government should avoid detaining journalists and protect freedom of speech and expression.”
The IFJ said: “The arrest and intimidation of Shahid Aslam violate the fundamental rights and legal protections guaranteed to journalists in Pakistan. Journalists must be able to report on matters in the public interest without fear of retribution. The IFJ condemns the FIA’s arrest of Shahid Aslam and urges the Pakistani authorities to withdraw all legal cases against him.”