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SC reserves verdict on TLP's Faizabad sit-in after censuring stakeholders in final hearing

Updated November 22, 2018

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A case on TLP's infamous Faizabad sit-in from 2017 is being heard in the apex court. — AP
A case on TLP's infamous Faizabad sit-in from 2017 is being heard in the apex court. — AP

The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on the suo motu case over Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan's (TLP) Faizabad sit-in after dishing out severe criticism to the attorney general, media regulator and other stakeholders in the case's final hearing.

The reserved verdict pertains to a variety of issues stemming from TLP's infamous sit-in from last year, including its party registration, its violent protest as well as the role of government institutions and regulators in the buildup, on the day and in the aftermath of the protest.

As the case's hearing resumed today, Justice Qazi Faez Isa was livid to know that Attorney General Anwar Mansoor Khan was not in court and instead attending a meeting of the Economic Coordination Committee.

"What business does the attorney general have with economics?" Justice Isa asked. "Is this a joke? Is the attorney general a servant of the prime minister?

"If the prime minister had called him, he could have declined. Did the prime minister ask to adjourn the hearing? Is the prime minister above the Supreme Court?"

"For the attorney general, Pakistan is not important enough."

After the attorney general made it to the court, he told the court "the TLP could be deprived of its election symbol".

"Without the symbol they will not be able to contest elections," he said.

Justice Isa told the attorney general that the TLP is registered in the name of a Dubai-based person, possibly wondering if the case could fall under the dual nationality rule.

"Nicop (National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis) is for Pakistanis living abroad," the attorney general explained. "A person holding a Nicop is not a dual national."

"Should a Nicop holder not have been questioned about dual nationalities?" the judge asked, to which the attorney general replied: "In my opinion, he should have been questioned."

The attorney general further said that while "peaceful protests is everyone's right, action can be taken where threats are issued and provocations are made".

Attorney general, Pemra cop SC criticism again

Earlier, the judge had pondered issuing a contempt-of-court notice to the attorney general for not appearing before the court. "We will give an observation against him. Let's see what the role of a attorney general is in the Constitution."

"If you are not serious at pursuing this case then let us know," Justice Isa told the deputy attorney general. "You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Had I been the attorney general, I would have resigned."

"Every person is the servant of the state," Justice Isa reminded those in attendance. "The attorney general and the ISI, too."

The attorney general had been criticised by the SC bench in the case's last hearing as well over his absence.

"This is not a joke," Justice Isa had remarked, wondering what other case could be more important than the one which relates to "Pakistan being shut down".

"The attorney general is answerable because he is paid from the public's taxes.

In the same hearing, the court had rejected each one of the reports submitted by the Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (Pemra).

The ISI and Pemra submitted new reports in the court today.

In the last hearing, the SC bench had grilled Pemra Chairman Muhammad Saleem Baig regarding a blackout of TV news channels that had taken place during the sit-in last year.

Pemra counsel Hafiz Ahsan denied in court today that the regulator had issued instructions to cable operators to shut down Geo. "The cable operators were simply told to follow the law," he said.

"[Then] what disciplinary measures were taken against the cable operators?" Justice Isa enquired, to which the Pemra counsel said that fines up to Rs1 million could be imposed.

"I am writing that nothing was done," a dissatisfied Justice Isa responded.

"We are now living in a controlled media state. 'Shut this channel, shut that channel' ... have we now become a nation of liars? Channels were shut from morning till evening, yet the Pemra did not know. No one felt any remorse."

'Pemra's report is deceitful'

The judge labelled Pemra's report as deceitful, sarcastically calling it "yet another honour" for the regulator.

"The channels that praise you can go on, but the rest you shut down; is this freedom of speech? Justice Isa asked the Pemra chair. "You want to make the channels bow down so they say what you want them to say. Is this Pakistan? Did we gain independence for this?"

Justice Isa also remarked that the Pemra chairman did not have the courage to enforce the law.