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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday set aside the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to reject the application of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD)’s political front Milli Muslim League (MML) for registration as a political party without providing an opportunity of hearing to it.

A bench, comprising Justice Aamer Farooq, remanded the case back to the ECP asking it to proceed further on the application by giving the party an opportunity of hearing. The bench had reserved its verdict on December 22 after hearing arguments from both the sides.

The MML through its president Saifullah Khalid approached the IHC and made the ECP and the interior secretary respondents in the matter. Challenging the ECP’s order of October 11, 2017, the petition described it unreasonable, illegal as well as against the Constitution and the law.

It said MML was founded as a political party in accordance with Article 17(2) of the Constitution read with Article 3 of the PPO 2002 but without hearing the petitioner’s counsel the ECP declined to enlist it on October 11. The petitioner claimed that the ECP had declined to enlist MML as a political party on the advice of the Ministry of Interior.

IHC sends case back to commission to hear it afresh and provide hearing opportunity to petitioner

“Article 17 (2) of the Constitution confers a fundamental right on every citizen, not being in the service of Pakistan, to form or to be a member of a political party, subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by the law in the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan,” the petitioner maintained.

He prayed to the court to set aside the order and direct the ECP to scrutinise the documents afresh, strictly in accordance with the law and enlist the party.

The ECP had turned down the plea of the MML because of its alleged links with banned militant outfits.

The decision was announced by a four-member ECP bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza after hearing arguments from the MML’s lawyer Raja Abdul Rehman.

The ECP took the decision on the basis of a letter from the Ministry of Interior (MoI) which had asked the commission to ban the MML for having links with banned militant outfits.

“Ministry of Interior has taken up the issue with security agencies. While reply of [an] agency is awaited, the other agency has intimated that indulgence of proscribed and under observation organisations in political process with an aim to win legitimacy is a serious issue, thereby neutralising the gains of the National Action Plan (to counter terrorism). In view of the above, the registration of the MML is not supported,” the ministry had said in response to the ECP’s letter sent to it on Aug 24.

The ministry had stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had also told it that JuD and Falah-i-lnsaniyat Foundation (FIF) were banned organisations under the Pakistan Security Council Act 1948.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also highlighted our international obligations and commitment to the National Action Plan and recommended that the MoI should take up the matter of registration and activities of the MML and its association with proscribed organisations with the ECP to avoid any negative consequences for Pakistan and, therefore, recommended that the MML’s application for registration should not be supported,” the interior ministry told the ECP.

“There is evidence to substantiate that Lashkar-i-Taiba, JuD and FIF are affiliates and are ideologically of the same hue. Lashkar-i-Taiba has been proscribed since 14-01-2002, whereas JuD and FIF are placed under restrictions since 27-1-2017 and later extended up to 26-1-2018 under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. They have also attracted sanctions under the United Nations Security Council Resolution No 1267 and have been dealt accordingly,” the letter reads.

The issue of the MML’s links with banned outfits was highlighted during the recently held by-election in NA-120 Lahore where its nominee contested poll as an independent candidate, prominently displaying pictures of JuD chief Hafiz Saeed on his banners and posters. The ECP in reaction only said the MML was not a political party enlisted with it.

During the by-poll, the returning officer restrained Sheikh Mohammad Yaqoob from displaying photos of the proscribed organisation’s leaders on his campaign banners.

A spokesperson for the ECP clarified that Mr Yaqoob, who was contesting the by-poll as an independent candidate, had been allotted the symbol of an energy saver. He said action would be taken under the ECP’s code of conduct if Mr Yaqoob failed to comply with the returning officer’s directives.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2018