ISLAMABAD: Against the backdrop of a 20-day-long Faizabad sit-in, the Supreme Court has ruled that no one could be allowed to use “filthy-abusive language” for the sake of politics in the guise of an Islamic cause.
“Freedom of speech and expression as well as freedom of the press is enshrined as a fundamental right (Article 19 of the Constitution), but the same provision curtails it when it is used to undermine ‘the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan… or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence’,” says an eight-page order issued by a two-judge Supreme Court bench comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Saturday.
“No one can be allowed to use filthy-abusive language to advance a political agenda in the guise of an Islamic cause as it amounts to denigrating the glory of Islam...Force and violence (jabr) has no place in Islam. The word Islam itself means peace,” the bench ruled.
On Nov 30, while hearing a suo motu case regarding the use of abusive language at the Faizabad sit-in and chronic traffic congestion and roadblocks placed because of the sit-in, the court had observed that it would issue a detailed order at a later date.
Pemra told to ensure compliance with hate speech rules
The bench described the concerns expressed by the capital city’s authorities regarding media coverage of the sit-in as “legitimate”, and issued the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) an order to exercise extreme vigilance and ensure that the electronic media complied with the relevant rules.
“The Pemra is directed to submit a comprehensive report with regard to all electronic media channels,” says the order.
The Islamabad police had regretted taking the extreme measure of halting live coverage of the sit-in, and explained that it had become hard for the state to maintain its writ when inflammatory content inciting violence was being aired live.
In its order, the Supreme Court decided to later consider, with the assistance of Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf, whether to make reports presented by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), through Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Sohail Mehmood, part of the record.
Observing that the people of Pakistan were entitled to know about the loss of lives and property caused because of the sit-in, the apex court directed the ministries of defence and interior to furnish particulars of the losses incurred by law enforcement personnel, bystanders and members of the public, as well as of the protesters who lost their lives or were injured.
The ministries were also told to submit particulars of public and private properties destroyed or damaged by the protesters along with their estimated value. The requisite information is to be gathered from all four provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
The order regrets that when violence was perpetrated against the state and destruction of public and private property was being broadcast without condemnation of the violence — but in fact, justifying it — not only did it provide rabble-rousers a platform to advocate their cause but also encouraged them to resort to violence.
The court recalled that electronic media was governed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority Ordinance 2002, and every broadcaster who had a licence was required to, “ensure preservation of the sovereignty, security and integrity of Pakistan”.
The order notes that Section 20 of the ordinance requires electronic media to ensure that all programmes and advertisements did not contain or encourage violence, terrorism, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, sectarianism, extremism, militancy and hatred. If a broadcast channel violates those provisions, it constitutes an offence under Section 33 of the ordinance which states that it is “punishable with a fine which may extend to Rs10 million for the first offence, and its licence may also be revoked”.
The order notes that inflammatory, provocative or abusive statements aired on television channels fanned the flames of hatred and violence.
In its order, the court wondered whether the violence that had occurred was because of the inflammatory material broadcast on television channels. The order notes that freedom of speech and expression and the independence of the media were values cherished by the people of Pakistan guaranteed in the Constitution, but adds that there was no place in public discourse to propagate the commission of an offence or to incite people to violence. Broadcasts cannot encourage violence, extremism, militancy or hatred.
The apex court notes in order that in the aftermath of the sit-in several people had propagated views that maligned the armed forces by projecting them as being wholly apart from the executive, and in doing so, violated Article 5 of the Constitution.
Everyone is bound to uphold the Constitution, the order says, including every media anchor, politician or aalim. It adds that every citizen was bound to obey the Constitution and the law. Similarly, those who carried out violent acts, or advocated and propagated violence, destroyed properties, used abusive language and hate speech also violated the injunctions of Islam, the order explains.
Article 2 of the Constitution stipulates that: “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan.” A believer cannot condone, let alone perpetuate violence, says the order.
The court ordered the information ministry to send a copy of its order to all electronic media channels contemplated in the ordinance and to all newspapers and magazines.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2017