ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked on Thursday whether a party whose head propagates views against the Constitution can be registered as a party under the Political Parties Act by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
“When someone says, ‘I do not believe in the Constitution’, [can his party] be registered under the Political Parties Act,” wondered Justice Qazi Faez Isa. Referring to the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) and its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, he asked whether someone could be allowed to violate the Constitution even if he had a just cause.
Justice Isa was part of the two-judge bench that had resumed hearing on the 20-day sit-in held at the Faizabad interchange in Islamabad/Rawalpindi by the party in November 2017. The bench presided over by Justice Mushir Alam had held the last hearing in the case on April 26.
Justice Alam asked if ECP had ever taken a position on the matter and whether it was empowered to take any action against such parties?
Intelligence agencies submit report on Faizabad sit-in
Attorney General Anwar Mansoor explained that the ECP registers the parties but conceded that although protesting lawfully is everyone’s right, holding a protest so as to paralyse routine life is indeed unconstitutional. He added the ECP had the authority to revoke the registration of any political party.
The court issued a notice to the ECP to furnish the application under which the party had been registered and asked the attorney general to assist the court in determining whether the commission or the federal government was empowered under the Elections Act 2017 to take measures for regulating the parties.
“Now we can reflect upon what lessons we have learnt because the heat of the moment has gone,” Justice Isa said. “We can now see who did what.”
He asked whether occupying a building could be considered part of a protest. “Is there one Pakistan or many Pakistans?”
Justice Alam said the right of association did not permit propagating opinions against the fundamentals of Pakistan and wondered whether persons constituting the party had displayed a conduct aimed at strengthening the integrity and sovereignty of the country.
When the attorney general said the party had even been allotted an election symbol to contest the general elections, Justice Isa asked: “Can Al Qaeda [after] saying openly that they don’t believe in the Constitution of Pakistan be registered as a party by the ECP if it submits an application?”
The court expressed annoyance when a director of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) suggested his organisation did not get any complaint about blocking of channels like Dawn News and Geo in certain parts of the country.
Justice Isa reminded the official that he was taking a divergent view on the matter because during previous proceedings senior counsel S.A. Rehman, who appeared on behalf of Pemra, had conceded that the organisation had received complaints about the blocking of channels in certain areas.
“How dare a government functionary stop distribution of newspapers unless they forget the sayings of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who founded Dawn,” Justice Isa said, adding that Pakistan was created by people bestowed with a certain vision.
He then told the Pemra official the court could order registration of a case against him for committing perjury or initiate contempt of court proceedings, but the attorney general suggested that an investigation should be carried out before taking any drastic measures.
At this Justice Isa said: “We are not living in a police state and should the media be silenced for not following a particular agenda? Some people think they own Pakistan when the people of Pakistan own this state.”
Defence Secretary Ikramul Haq submitted to the court a report on behalf of the intelligence agencies, which suggested the TLYRA leaders should be summoned to explain the manner in which they acted during the sit-in.
The report explained that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) acted in accordance with the government’s directives to facilitate negotiations between the government and TLYRA and the talks resulted in calling off of the sit-in by the protesters.
The dangerous law and order situation across all major cities and violent attacks on government functionaries had played an important role in determining the terms of the Nov 27 agreement.
The report explained that speculation about a possible conspiracy was given credence by irresponsible remarks by those in influential positions. A false impression was created that the ISI was behind the sit-in.
In reality, the spying agency made every effort to support the government in bringing about a peaceful resolution of the problem.
The operation against protesters was conducted in accordance with the order of the Islamabad High Court, which had directed the administration of the federal capital to take action against the demonstrators.
Published in Dawn, October 12th, 2018