Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed

ISLAMABAD: The government and the judiciary seemed to be on a collision course on Thursday after a Supreme Court judge likened the ruling party to the Sicilian mafia, prompting the government to accuse the judge of violating his oath of office and bringing a bad name to the country.

A visibly perturbed Supreme Court bench on Thursday took strong exception to an outburst from a ruling party loyalist, equating it with threats that the Sicilian mafia used to issue to the judges and their families in Italy.

“Do you know who used to threaten the children of judges? The Sicilian mafia,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed observed.

Pointing towards Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf, he went on to say, sarcastically: “Congra­tula­tions! Your government has also joined these ranks.”

In harsh govt reaction, unnamed spokesperson calls remarks against oath and code of conduct of judges

All the AG could say in response was: “No, this is not correct.”

A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan was hearing the contempt case, initiated suo motu, against sacked Senator Nehal Hashmi for his remarks where he appeared to threaten the members of the joint investigation team (JIT) and the judiciary for investigating Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family on allegations stemming from the Panama Papers case.

The mention of the Sicilian mafia in Thursday’s proceedings was reminiscent of Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s minority judgement in the Panama Papers case, who quoted Mario Puzo’s popular 1969 novel The Godfather in the opening lines of his verdict.

But in an uncharacteristically strongly-worded reply, an unnamed government spokesperson regretted that an honourable judge had declared the government a “Sicilian mafia” and accused the AG of being its representative — an act that had damaged the prestige of the country before the international community.

“Such a baseless remark is against the oath and code of conduct of the judges,” the spokesperson’s statement, which was also aired by the state-run PTV, said.

Expressing “deep concern and regret” over the judge’s remarks, the spokesperson maintained that the court had not only ignored the disciplinary action taken against Mr Hashmi by the prime minister, but had instead levelled baseless allegations against the government.

The government had not only distanced itself from Mr Hashmi’s uncalled-for remarks, it took a very harsh view of his outburst, as was evident from the print and electronic media reports, the spokesperson said.

On Wednesday, the prime minister was chairing an important meeting related to national security, which ended in the afternoon, the spokesperson said. As soon as the matter was brought to his notice, he immediately issued Mr Hashmi a show-cause notice and suspended his basic membership of the party.

Mr Hashmi was also summoned to the Prime Minister’s House and, when he failed to give a satisfactory reply, was directed to resign from the Senate.

Giving a timeline of events, the spokesperson clarified that Mr Hashmi had already submitted his resignation to the Senate secretariat before the apex court took notice of his remarks.

Mr Hashmi was also at the centre of a controversy last November, when he reportedly held a private meeting with then-Justice Amir Hani Muslim — who on the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the Panama Papers case.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a show-cause notice Mr Hashmi for ridiculing the judiciary and appointed the AG to prosecute him under contempt laws.

If the AG is not available, he may appoint one of his deputies to appear on Monday (June 5).

The court did not allow Mr Hashmi — who was also present in court — to explain his position, but ordered him to furnish a reply, which the court will consider later.

Later, Mr Hashmi told reporters that his outburst was not meant to target the judiciary, saying that he was against all those who were bent upon destroying the country.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court also laid to rest the controversy around a WhatsApp call, allegedly made by the Supreme Court registrar to top officials of the State Bank of Pakistan and Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

Justice Khan explained that it was the judges who inquired about the antecedents of the probe team and asked the registrar to make the calls. After considering who was who, the bench passed the order to appoint a JIT consisting of six members, Justice Khan said.

“We read many things which are magnified, exaggerated and blown out of proportion,” Justice Khan regretted, adding that the court knew what to do.

Justice Saeed was also bitter over the treatment judges were getting at the hands of the government, recalling that even the military government never threatened judges’ children during their detention at the time of the Nov 3, 2007 emergency.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan also regretted that while Mr Hashmi made this speech on May 28, the government kept quiet and only reacted when they came to know about the Supreme Court’s imminent response.

Many cabinet members and their spokespersons had also initiated a systematic smear campaign against JIT members, as well as the judges, Justice Ahsan deplored.

In a related development, Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has summoned Mr Hashmi in his chambers on Monday to ascertain whether he tendered his resignation voluntarily or under duress.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2017