Authorities in Pakistan arrested an opposition senator Sunday for launching what they said was a “highly obnoxious campaign of intimidating tweets” against the country’s outgoing military chief and other officers.
Azam Khan Swati, who represents the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in the upper house of parliament, was picked up early morning by operatives of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) from his residence in the capital, Islamabad.
The 75-year-old senator, charged with sedition charges under a controversial cybercrime law, used foul language in his tweets while referring to the army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is set to retire Tuesday.
An FIA criminal complaint described Swati’s comments against Bajwa and state institutions at large as a “mischievous act of subversion to create [a] rift between personal of armed forces to harm the state of Pakistan.”
It was the second time in less than two months that the veteran politician, a close aide of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, was taken into custody over the same allegations.
Swati was arrested in October and released on bail days later. But he has since consistently claimed he was tortured and stripped while in custody, accusing a senior general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of doing so at the behest of Bajwa.
The senator has also been urging the country’s Supreme Court to investigate and punish those responsible for the custodial torture.
“I am shocked & appalled at how rapidly we are descending into not just a banana republic but a fascist state,” Khan said on Twitter in his reaction to Swati’s arrest.
“His justifiable anger & frustration at the injustice meted out to him…So he tweets & is arrested again. Everyone must raise their voice against this state fascism,” the former prime minister wrote.
On Saturday, the senator, along with Khan, was among speakers at a massive rally in the neighboring garrison city of Rawalpindi to demand early general elections.
Swati asked Bajwa in his brief televised speech, to tell the nation what assets the military chief has accumulated during his six-year tenure.
Last week, an online Pakistani investigative website, Fact Focus, revealed that the military chief’s immediate and extended family members have accumulated assets worth more than $56 million since he took office in 2016.
The news outlet claimed— citing leaked tax records and wealth statements submitted to the Federal Board of Revenue — that Bajwa’s wife has increased her assets from zero to nearly $10 million during the period in question.
The report prompted Pakistan Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to order an immediate investigation into what he denounced as the “illegal and unwarranted” leak of the confidential tax record of the army chief’s family in violation of tax laws. Dar recently told local media the FBR had traced the identities of the officials behind the leak, but he shared no other details.
For the first time Sunday, the Pakistan military’s media wing refuted the claims of unusual increases in wealth for Bajwa and his family as “misleading” and exaggerated. “It is totally untrue and based on blatant lies and malice,” the Inter-Services Public Relations division said in a statement.
The Fact Focus website remained completely inaccessible in Pakistan for more than 20 hours after it published the investigative report, said Reporters Without Borders, a global watchdog known by its French acronym RSF.
“With this investigation, Fact Focus has put precise and sourced numbers to a reality that many Pakistanis have sensed without knowing it,” claimed an RSF statement. It went on to state “Pakistan’s armed forces rarely tolerate any form of scrutiny by the media.”
The watchdog called on Pakistan’s civilian authorities to ensure respect for its citizens’ right to journalism in the public interest.