Supreme Court 'amazed' at ECP official's stance regarding TLP's expenditure details

Published November 20, 2018
Justice Mushir Alam (L) and Justice Qazi Faez Isa are hearing a suo motu case regarding the Faizabad sit-in. — File photos
Justice Mushir Alam (L) and Justice Qazi Faez Isa are hearing a suo motu case regarding the Faizabad sit-in. — File photos

The Sup­reme Court on Tuesday released its detailed order of the November 16 hearing into the 2017 Faizabad protest staged by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pak­is­tan (TLP), making some damning observations regarding state institutions and the implementation of national laws.

The court had during last Friday's hearing rejected reports furnished by the Defence Ministry, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra) on the sit-in and directed them to file comprehensive explanations on November 22.

Below are some of the significant elements of the top court's order:

SC 'amazed' at ECP stance

During the Nov 16 hearing, the SC took up the ECP's report regarding TLP's registration as a political party and raised several questions about the religiopolitical party's background.

The ECP informed the court through its report that the documents submitted for the TLP's registration "were by a person who held a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (Nicop) which showed his residence to be in the United Arab Emirates", the order says.

However, according to the order, ECP Director General (Legal) Mohammad Arshad was unable to answer whether the said person possesses a Pakistani passport, or is a dual national or a foreign national, and he "instead states that a political party can also be registered by those having Nicops, but without referring to any provision of the law".

The apex court was not pleased with the stance taken by the ECP when Arshad conceded that the TLP had not provided financial details of their election campaign but added that those provisions were “cosmetic in nature” having no consequences for the political parties for defying.

"We are amazed that a senior employee of the ECP... is himself undermining the Elections Act and the Elections Rules [under which parties are required to submit expenditure details]," the bench writes.

"Needless to state, the credibility of the ECP is tarnished and undermined when its own senior officer states that its law is 'cosmetic'."

The court also said it would "would want to hear the ECP and the learned [attorney general] on the question whether a party that brought the country to a standstill, caused massive economic loss, the loss of life, injured law enforcement personnel and caused destruction of public and private property can be registered as a political party or be allowed to continue as such".

Rejecting the ECP report, the bench directed the commission to submit in writing whether it agrees with the views of the DG (Legal) "and if not then what action it proposes to take against the [TLP]".

Pemra's report is 'non-serious': SC

The top court was dissatisfied with the account submitted by Pemra regarding the blocking of certain TV channels' transmissions in parts of the country.

According to the order, the Pemra chairman verbally informed the bench that they had imposed a fine of Rs50,000 on a cable operator who had interrupted the channels' broadcasts but that no evidence was provided to confirm the same.

Pemra was represented in the court by seven officials, "but not one of them has the proof of the purported fine/penalty that has been allegedly imposed", the order says.

The bench recalled in its order that the "broadcast of any channel cannot be curtailed at the whim of any cable operator".

Although the Pemra chairman did not dispute that transmissions of certain channels have been interrupted, he "expressed his ignorance on whose bidding this was done".

"Pemra's inability to trace out the culprits [behind the blocking of channels] is undermining [the] fundamental rights [of freedom of speech and press] and the laws governing Pemra," the order reads.

Terming the report submitted by Pemra as "non-serious", the court directed the authority to submit a fresh report signed by its chairman.

ISI's mandate

The order states that the court was informed by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) through a report that the agency can neither ascertain whether a person has a bank account, nor whether he or she is a taxpayer, and that such information could only be obtained from the State Bank and the Federal Board of Revenue, respectively.

In response to the bench's inquiry, the order says, Defence Ministry Director (Legal) Brig Falak Naz, stated that the intelligence agency is governed by the laws of the country, "but without mentioning any law".

The court has directed the Defence Ministry secretary and the attorney general to "submit the law/rules/instructions governing ISI and its mandate".

'Parameters of protests'

The SC bench has stated it will determine in the future hearings of the case "the parameters of protests and how these have to be handled by the state".

The court will also examine whether there are parallels to protests staged by religiopolitical groups in past protests and how those were handled, including the May 12, 2007 demonstrations in Karachi and the 126-day sit-in jointly staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in 2014 at D-Chowk, Islamabad.

In November 2017, TLP workers demanding the resignation of then law minister Zahid Hamid had staged a weeks-long sit-in at the Faizabad interchange that had virtually paralysed the federal capital and led to several people losing their lives.

On Nov 21 last year, the apex court had taken notice of the sit-in and directed the Defence and Interior secretaries to submit a detailed report on the matter.

Days later, the then PML-N government had launched against the protesters an operation which, when failed, had forced the authorities to cave and Hamid to resign.

The court will take up the case again on Thursday, Nov 22.

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