Journalist Ahmed Noorani Asks Federal Govt To Launch Probe Into Gen (retd) Bajwa's Assets

Journalist Ahmed Noorani Asks Federal Govt To Launch Probe Into Gen (retd) Bajwa's Assets
Journalist Ahmed Noorani on Monday asked the federal government to launch an inquiry into the assets held by the former chief of army staff, General (Retired) Qamar Javed Bajwa, as there was an "urgent need for accountability of the Armed Forces" in light of court orders.

In the representation sent by Noorani's lawyer Imaan Mazari-Hazir to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Federal Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Federal Human Rights Minister Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada, and the Federal Investigation Agency's (FIA) director general, he contended that he had been "falsely and with mala fide [intentions] roped into an FIR" on the alleged illegal access and disclosure of tax details of the former army chief.

Noorani had been booked alongside two officials of the FBR and an Islamabad-based journalist for allegedly accessing information pertaining to Bajwa's tax records illegally.

Falsely implicated

Noorani contends in the letter that he "merely reported a matter in the public interest," but he has been falsely implicated in the case.

"Our Client is not an employee of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), government or, in fact, any agency/department/ministry - and accordingly, there is no question of him - or any other journalist - accessing or retrieving information without lawful authority," he argued.

Noorani's lawyers said that journalists regularly receive information from sources which they publish in the public interest.

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He argued that journalists the world over publish tax data of public individuals as it is considered to be in the larger public interest and a significant step in ensuring accountability of public office holders.

In this regard, he pointed to the recent publication of the lifetime tax returns of former US President Donald Trump.

He also pointed to the publication of tax records of individuals in Pakistan, including former prime minister Imran Khan and another private individual, Muhammad Shafiq, who had claimed to have bought a bejewelled watch set from former prime minister Imran Khan.

"No action was taken against this despite the fact that the breach of privacy was that of an ordinary citizen, not a public office holder."

The letter said that Noorani did not even publish any false information regarding former army chief Gen Bajwa.

"In fact, my client, being a committed and honest journalist, merely brought before the public information of public importance regarding the then Chief of Army Staff, who appears to have amounted massive wealth during his tenure as COAS, with no reasonable explanation for the same."

Investigating Gen Bajwa

Noorani, in his letter, contended that it is a matter of "grave concern" that the government authorized an inquiry against FBR officials and our Client [Noorani] (along with other journalists) instead of ordering an inquiry into the unexplained increases in wealth of the former chief of army staff (which are backed by documentary evidence).

"It is reiterated that if accountability must be ensured for civilian political leadership, then the same accountability must be extended to the military hierarchy (which has thus far evaded such accountability)," the letter said.

READ MORE: Dar ‘Takes Serious Notice’ Of COAS Bajwa’s Assets Leak

Stressing the urgent need for accountability of the Armed Forces, the letter referred to a 2021 order of the Supreme Court (2021 SCMR 201 (paragraph 33): "... The people have every right to know what is given to those in the service of Pakistan and holding constitutional positions. There is no quicker way to lose public trust than to shroud information in secrecy. To withhold such information from the people is unconstitutional. The 'right to information' is a fundamental right... The Report of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission of Inquiry into the 1971 War... reported that, 'responsible service officers' had asserted before the Commission that corruption resulting from lands and houses resulted in the loss of will to fight and loss of professional competence. These disastrous consequences and the aphorism, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it must be avoided."

Accordingly, Noorani said that the primary request in the representation was to request the initiation of an inquiry against former Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Silencing a journalist

Noorani's lawyers further contended that his inclusion in the case was nothing but a means for the state to silence a journalist for publishing tax data for an individual who is paid by the state.

"It is pertinent to mention that our client has been roped into the aforementioned litigation purely for the purposes of deterring him from the performance of his journalistic duties," it argued. Noorani has been declared a proclaimed offender by the state.

Noorani's legal team noted that they have been denied access to the full record/file of the case and argued that it "further reflects the non-transparent and biased manner in which these proceedings are being conducted."

READ MORE: Despite Laws, Journalists And Their Data Remain Vulnerable

His legal team further argued that the nature of the allegations against Noorani was "vexatious in that it is a clear example of Strategic Litigation against Public Participation (SLAPP)."

The impact of such cases, his legal team noted, was to intimidate, censor and silence critics by compelling them to incur financial costs of legal defence.

"If the State begins to persecute or prosecute them to the extent where they are forced to incur financial costs for their legal defence or disclose their sources, the profession of journalism would cease to exist in Pakistan."

"Such frivolous litigation undermines both the criminal justice system and the significance attached to the right of freedom of expression, which is the cornerstone for any functioning and vibrant democracy."

He submitted that no false information had been published.

Moreover, he noted that no legal action was initiated when details of Imran Khan's tax records were published or when Shafiq's records were published. Instead, Noorani pointed out government ministers used this information in their press conferences.

"This, taken together with the aforementioned investigation, indicates that the government maintains a flawed and contradictory position that a separate set of rules is applicable to the privacy of politicians (who are public figures and, therefore, cede their privacy to a large extent) and even private citizens, while an entirely different set of standards applies to the privacy of office bearers within the military hierarchy (who are also public office holders)."

Join investigations

Earlier, Noorani in his letter said that he had also sent a request on Monday to the Federal Investigation Agency and the Interior Ministry to allow him to join the investigation via video link and/or questionnaire.