The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday ordered the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to restore the national identity card of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) leader Hafiz Hamdullah, ruling that the authority acted in an "arbitrary and reckless" manner by depriving him of his citizenship without considering the profound consequences of such a decision.
Ex-senator Hamdullah had lost his citizenship in October 2019 when Nadra declared him an "alien". He had subsequently challenged Nadra's notification of revoking his citizenship in the IHC.
Nadra in its written reply had referred to intelligence reports claiming that Hamdullah was not a Pakistani national. It took the stance that intelligence agencies had claimed that Hamdullah’s credentials were also fake and subsequently his computerised national identity card (CNIC) had been cancelled.
However, the IHC ruled that Nadra was bereft of jurisdiction to initiate proceedings on the basis of reports received from intelligence agencies regarding the status of citizenship of a person who has been registered as a citizen. "The [agencies], at best, can report a case of alleged fraud, misrepresentation or concealment of material facts along with the relevant material to the competent authority empowered under the Citizenship Act," the judgement authored by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said.
Besides allowing Hamdullah's petition, the IHC has also directed Nadra to restore the CNICs of other petitioners who were deprived of their respective citizenships on similar grounds by the authority. For illustration purposes, however, the 29-page verdict discusses the facts of Hamdullah's case.
The judgement stated that Hamdullah was born in a remote town of the Province of Baluchistan "and this crucial fact has not been denied" by the government. His father Qari Wali Muhammad was employed by the Government of Baluchistan.
"He and his father have lived in Pakistan all their lives. They own properties and the petitioner has held various public offices as an elected representative," the order said, noting that his son had the distinction of having been accepted as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of Pakistan.
"There could not have been a more glaring example of arbitrary and reckless action by [Nadra] of purportedly depriving a registered citizen of his citizenship and that too when [it] had no jurisdiction under the Ordinance of 2000 to do so," it added.
It is an admitted fact that Hamdullah and other petitioners were duly registered by the authority after they had applied for issuance of their CNICs in accordance with the prescribed procedure and fulfilling the mandatory requirements, the verdict said, adding that the registration was followed by the issuance of the respective CNICs "by acknowledging the crucial fact that the petitioners were citizens of Pakistan".
"The registration and issuance of a CNIC is a certification or acknowledgment that the person was an eligible citizen of Pakistan," the order stated.
It noted that the authorities had not alleged that the petitioners had given false information regarding their birth in Pakistan when they had applied for their CNICs. "There is nothing on record to show how [Nadra] or the concerned intelligence agency had concluded that the petitioners were not citizens of Pakistan," it said.
It added: "[Neither Nadra] nor the intelligence agencies are competent to determine the question of citizenship of a person. The suspension of a duly issued CNIC or cancellation thereof has a profound and grave consequence because it virtually brings the life of an affected person to a halt and the latter, by implication, is denied the exercise of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution."
Such a person loses the right of employment, access to his or her own bank accounts, and the right to engage in trade, business or profession. Moreover, access to education, health, etc., is denied and the family members are also equally affected, the verdict said.
It further said the petitioners were deprived of being citizens of Pakistan in a perfunctory manner merely because an intelligence agency had reported so.
"This Court has consistently observed that [Nadra] was bereft of jurisdiction to adjudicate upon a question which involves the determination of the status of a person as a citizen of Pakistan and that too, on the basis of reports received from intelligence agencies which are under the control of the government," it added, recalling that it was observed in several cases that the petitions had been disposed of in the past because the concerned intelligence agency, after reconsideration, had changed its opinion.
Justice Minallah wrote that citizenship is "the most valuable basic right of a human. All other rights, whether social or political, cannot be enjoyed if a person does not have a bond of citizenship with a State. [...] A person once registered as a citizen cannot be deprived of citizenship otherwise than as is provided under the law."
"Was [Nadra] vested with jurisdiction to initiate proceedings regarding 'eligibility' stemming from 'citizenship'? The answer is an emphatic NO," the order said, adding that the question of 'eligibility' having a nexus with 'citizenship' could only have been adjudicated by the competent authority vested with jurisdiction in this regard.
Nadra "has exposed itself to be sued for claim of damages for the devastating consequences and unimaginable mental agony suffered by the petitioners", read the verdict.
It said birthright citizenship automatically made a person born in Pakistan a citizen and such a person did not have to fulfil any prerequisites to become a citizen unlike in the case of other categories such as 'citizenship by naturalisation' or 'citizenship by immigration'. "It is not a privilege granted by the State but a right acquired by law," it added.
While allowing the petitions, the IHC ruled that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority's (Pemra) order restraining TV channels from "inviting and projecting" Hamdullah in programmes/talk shows was "an obvious misuse of authority".
"There is nothing on record to justify passing of the impugned order by Pemra. The order, dated 26-10-2019, is declared to have been issued illegally and wholly without authority and jurisdiction," the order stated.
Hamdullah, who was a senator from Balochistan between March 2012 and March 2018, used to frequently make appearances in evening talk shows on different news channels. However, after Nadra revoked his CNIC, Pemra banned his appearance on TV channels.
The directive came at a time when the JUI-F’s anti-government Azadi March was about to start.