June 09, 2023
ISLAMABAD - Journalist Ahmed Noorani has said he has been declared a proclaimed offender for reporting the assets of the former Chief of the Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa.
"This is perhaps for the first time in the history of journalism in Pakistan that a journalist has been declared a proclaimed offender for doing a story," he told Voice of America in an interview. "The challan has been submitted without informing me and all allegations in it are baseless. The only reason is that why this story has been filed."
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the FIA's Anti-Corruption Circle opened an investigation into Federal Board of Revenue officials on December 15 for illegal access to the army chief's and his family's tax details. This investigation followed a November 2022 article on Bajwa and his family's assets published on the independent news website Fact Focus by Noorani, who contributes to the outlet from exile in the US.
The Pakistani government subsequently blocked domestic access to Fact Focus for around 24 hours. The challan declared Noorani a "proclaimed offender" and stated that "legal efforts are being made for his arrest."
When he was asked under which laws the challan had been filed against him, Noorani said it was the access to the tax details of the former army chief. He admitted that accessing the tax details of anyone is illegal.
However, he maintained a journalist can be provided information about which he can decide if making it is in the public interest. "Once you get the documents, as a journalist you have two tasks, one verify them and basing a story on it is in the public interest. And of course, the person who is the main subject of story should be allowed to give his side of the story."
Noorani said the New York Times published the lifetime tax record of former Present Donald Trump. "Before that we at Fact Focus published the 42-year tax record of Imran Khan when he was prime minister. At that time, no action was taken against us."
He maintained that General Bajwa, when he was army chief got big plots in one of the leading housing societies in Islamabad for much less than the actual price. "Is this not corruption. The people of Pakistan have a right to know about it". Noorani said he had been pinpointed because he did a story about the former army chief.
"The real issue is that how did I get the returns. I cannot tell them about my source. But whatever documents did I secure, I verified them with the relevant institutions in Pakistan." He added that tax records of those in high positions have always been leaked. He maintained that the New York Times did not directly hack the tax return data of former president Trump. "After getting it, all they did was to confirm if it was correct or not. Then they decided if this information should reach the public or not. They decide if it should as the former president was getting salary and other perks from the taxpayer money of ordinary Americans."
He said that whenever journalists come up with stories against those in power, they have to face the consequences of cases, beatings, and incarceration. "Every kind of tactics, including harassment of female family members, is used."
Noorani added that he has been a victim of such measures, but this is the first time such a measure has been taken.
However, Noorani said the current government, instead of the defence institutions, are pursuing a case against him.
When he was asked about the perception that he was working against the military as an institution, Noorani denied it, saying he has been doing stories against politicians, bureaucrats, and of course, a few army men. "I have faced abuse from the workers of PTI and PMLN for doing stories against their leaders, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan".
Noorani feared that his property and bank accounts in Pakistan would be confiscated. However, he added that he would contest the case in Pakistan. He regretted that when there is a story about the corruption of the powerful, including the military, the first impulse is to shoot the messenger rather than asking the person accused to prove that his assets are clean.
Pakistan Today, November 28, 2016
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