PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Tuesday issued notices to the National Accountability Bureau chairman and federal government seeking their response to a petition, which said after the surfacing of a video and audio clips purportedly carrying ‘controversial’ conversation of the bureau’s chairman with a woman, orders should be issued to stop investigation of corruption charges against women under the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO).

Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Abdul Shakoor also issued notices to the attorney general for Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa advocate general in the main petition filed by freelance journalist Shahid Orakzai that requested the court to declare Section 24 of the NAO related to the powers of the NAB chairman to issue orders for the arrest of a suspect unconstitutional.

The bench observed that as the petitioner has challenged the NAO, it was necessary to hear the attorney general and advocate general on that point.

Probes against women under accountability law challenged

The petitioner had filed the main petition challenging section 24 of the NAO last month, saying the exercise of powers under that section was whimsical and discriminatory.

Following the surfacing of video and audio clips allegedly carrying conversation of the chairman with a woman suspect, the petitioner has filed an application in the main petition for ‘protection of women’ requesting the court that till final disposal of this writ petition Section 24 might be suspended and the court might stop any action under the ordinance including inquiry, investigation and trial of any feminine citizen.

When the bench took up the main petition and additional application, the petitioner said neither the NAB chairman nor other officers mentioned in Section 24 of NAO could secretly pressure an accused for sexual abuse.

He said the ordinance was not promulgated for bodily pleasure nor was it meant for sexual plea bargain.

The petitioner said due to the presence of women in the courtroom, he couldn’t read out all the contents of his application but if the court was interested the transcript of the objectionable conversation between the chairman and a woman facing a reference could be provided.

He said the audio-visual evidence broadcast by a TV channel needed to be examined by the court primarily to give a ruling whether the substance of the talk was seductive or coercive in nature.

Mr Orakai said the court should take note that the Constitution repeatedly called for extra protection and care to women but on the contrary, the NAO made no mention of that.

About the main petition, the petitioner said he had primarily questioned the vires of Section 24 pertaining to power of arrest of the accused at any stage of inquiry or investigation.

He said Article 25 of the Constitution guaranteed equality before the law for all citizens but prejudice and favoritism were the two sides of the NAO.

Senior prosecutor of NAB Azeem Dad said the bureau’s prosecutor general would himself appear before the bench for defending section 24 of the Ordinance.

Additional attorney general Manzoor Khalil and additional advocate general Waqar Ahmad Khan also turned up.

The bench directed the attorney general and advocate general to appear before on the next hearing or nominate any law officer for arguments observing that the vires of the law were challenged in the court.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019

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