IHC dismisses plea for contempt proceedings against journalist

Updated 16 Jul 2020

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Islamabad High Court says dignity of judges is not “so frail and vulnerable so as to be harmed by a tweet on the social media”. — Dawn/File
Islamabad High Court says dignity of judges is not “so frail and vulnerable so as to be harmed by a tweet on the social media”. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: While the Supreme Court on Wednesday took suo motu notice of the alleged contemptuous tweet by a journalist, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in an identical matter observed that dignity of judges is not “so frail and vulnerable so as to be harmed by a tweet on the social media”.

The Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Ijazul Ahsan at the outset of the proceedings issued notices to the attorney general, journalist Mateeullah Jan and president of the Supreme Court of Bar Association. The bench put off the hearing till next week.

For his part, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah upheld the objections of the court office and dismissed a petition for contempt proceedings against the same journalist over his alleged defamatory tweet.

Although the court termed the tweet “inappropriate and unwanted content”, it expressed displeasure that the matter had been highlighted through litigation.

SC takes suo motu notice of Mateeullah Jan’s alleged contemptuous tweet

“It was indeed not appropriate for the petitioner, who is an enrolled advocate, to have further propagated an inappropriate and unwanted content by filing the instant petition. Only a few (persons) would have read it on the social media platform, but by entertaining this petition this court would be facilitating its propagation,” Justice Minallah noted.

“The judgments of a judge and the latter’s conduct is the measure of his or her integrity and independence. If contempt proceedings were to be initiated on the basis of a message uploaded on one of the social media platforms then it would open floodgates of petitions because of the number of allegedly contemptuous content,” he added.

“The integrity and independence of the Honourable Judges, regarding whom the alleged tweet has been attributed, is beyond doubt.”

Advocate Adnan Iqbal had said in his petition that through his tweet Mr Jan had attempted to use the social media platform to scandalise the apex court. He had prayed for the initiation of proceedings against the journalist under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

The petitioner had attached a document with his petition, said to be an image of the tweet uploaded by the respondent on his Twitter account.

Discussing the social media and how it tries to influence the judiciary, the court said: “Its impact on the administration of justice, particularly the right to a fair trial of an accused, could be profound. The abuse of social media platforms in a politically polarised society entails the risk of harming institutions and individuals. Fake, false, malicious and misguided propaganda, cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking, (and) targeting the judiciary and its members on social media platforms have become a common phenomenon.”

“The privacy of judges is not protected and messages, photos and videos relating to their personal lives or family matters are also uploaded in flagrant violation of the right to privacy,” it added.

“Fake, false and fabricated information and propaganda about judges and the administration of justice are resorted to in order to get the desired verdicts. Motives are imputed when a verdict is not of liking.

“It definitely creates an intense challenge for an independent judge and the judiciary. But the dignity of a judge or a court is not dependent on resorting to the law of contempt,” the court order added.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2020