ISLAMABAD: In view of a ‘libellous’ social media campaign targeting the superior judiciary, the office of the attorney general has written to the interior ministry and the information technology division suggesting criminal action against offenders that may entail two to five years prison term.

The letter, written by Secretary to Attorney General Khalid Khan Niazi on Dec 27, invites the authorities’ attention towards various images being circulated on the social media and internet websites by some Pakistani internet users.

One such image shows President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra enjoying a light moment. The image caption, however, incorrectly identifies the KP governor as Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice designate.

The letter says that caption is accompanied with incorrect, misleading and slanderous allegations with respect to the chief justice-designate’s professional capabilities. As such, the letter regrets, sharing the image under incorrect pretences, constitutes an act of misrepresentation, slander and defamation and is punishable by law.

It says that sharing the image amounts to an attack on the superior judiciary which adds to the gravity of the criminal act and therefore needs to be checked.

Earlier on Nov 19, the Supreme Court initiated contempt of court proceeding against Din News, a private television channel, for airing another slanderous image, which was first circulated on social media and later picked up by electronic media. The image alleges a private meeting between Justice Amir Hani Muslim of the Supreme Court and Senator Nehal Hashmi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz regarding the Panamagate case that was pending in the Supreme Court.

Justice Muslim was a member of the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the Panama leaks case on petitions moved by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the Jamaat-i-Islami and a private petitioner Tariq Asad.

The court had described the television package as a character assassination campaign that had cast aspersions on the conduct of the court’s judge.

Similarly on Dec 5, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa had regretted that judges had started avoiding shaking hands with people even at weddings or private ceremonies to avoid scandals connecting judges with the Panamagate case.

Justice Khosa was hearing an appeal against the rejection of a plea by the Islamabad High Court moved by Neo television channel. The channel had challenged a seven-day ban penalty imposed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) for airing that image.

Recently during a dinner to bid farewell to outgoing Chief Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Supreme Court Bar Association president Rasheed A. Rizvi highlighted the need to check the online trend of slander against members of the superior judiciary.

Meanwhile, the AG office, in its letter, has advised secretaries of the two important divisions to initiate criminal proceedings against individual users and group accounts on social media and websites sharing images under false pretence, allegations, misrepresentations or defamatory claims against the chief justice designate.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2016

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