SC resolves to put everyone on notice over press freedom

Published August 31, 2021
A view of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. — Online/File
A view of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. — Online/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has resolved to put every state functionary on notice to make them realise that the court is watching and to inquire each of them why constitutional duty of ensuring freedom of expression and of press is not being fulfilled.

At the outset of a court hearing on Monday, the movers of an application related to harassment of journalists, however, withdrew their plea even though Justice Muneeb Akhtar had observed the court had taken cognisance by invoking jurisdiction on a suo motu and would continue hearing the matter even if the courtroom was empty because it involved fundamental rights of journalists.

The observation came while notices were being issued to the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) director general, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s chairman and the Inspector General of Islamabad Police to appear in person on the next hearing (Sept 15) to address apprehensions expressed in the application moved by Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS).

Movers withdraw application related to harassment of journalists

The court office was also directed to procure complete report to the extent of the proceedings in a similar case relating to the violation of fundamental rights at the Islamabad High Court as well as a copy of the petition the high court was hearing.

The apex court also asked Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan and the advocate general for Islamabad to identify issues relating to freedom of the press and asked PAS President Amjad Bhatti to furnish complete list with specific instances of harassment of journalists.

Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed, meanwhile, observed that like judges, journalists were required not to indulge in politics and continue practising their profession with decency and morality and with no axe to grind.

Earlier, senior journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui told the court that he would like to withdraw his application, saying the victims would get justice on the Day of Judgement against those who had wronged them and when the predators would get punishment from the Almighty Allah.

“I am withdrawing (the application) because the events of the last week, from Aug 20 to 26, were tragic in the judicial history of the country,” Mr Siddiqui said.

The court, however, told him to furnish an application before the court.

Similarly, senior journalist Amir Mir from Lahore in a one-page application for withdrawal wrote that he had reasons to believe that he would not be able to get justice because the “invisible” elements whi­ch have been using the FIA Cyber Crime Wing to intimidate, harass and abduct/arrest him for the past two years were more powerful than those who were suppo­sed to provide justice and safeguard the fun­damental rights of the Pakistani citizens.

However, Justice Ijazul Ahsan said it was immaterial that the petitioners had withdrawn their application because the court had taken cognisance of the situation after the matter had been invoked by the chief justice.

“The court will welcome the applicants’ inputs and if they don’t (give inputs) the court will still call the state functionaries to answer why the fundamental rights of citizens and journalists as guaranteed in the Constitution are being flouted.

“If the applicants don’t want to associate with the proceedings, it is their choice since this is a free country and they have the freedom to approach or not to approach the court,” Justice Ahsan observed.

However, the court made it clear that the matter had been placed before the court, which had invoked the suo motu jurisdiction and being inquisitorial proceedings in nature, the court would like to take steps for the protection of the rights of journalists.

Justice Ahsan emphasised that the media and the journalists were the voice and conscience of the nation and “when you approach the court, being the guardians of the protection of the Constitution, the court will be the first to ensure that the journalists get the protection they deserve”.

“Freedom of the press, freedom of profession, security of persons and safeguards against detention had been looked by the framers of the Constitution who provided assurances in the green book against these excesses,” he observed, adding that the court would also like to look at the contours of Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

Justice Akhtar said that Article 19 treats the journalists in a preferential manner by ensuring that there would not only be the freedom of expression but also freedom of the press.

He also expressed surprise that on Aug 20 the appellants came rushing after the court and when the matter had been taken up, now they want to recede. He observed that the Constitution had spoken about the rights through Articles 8, 18, 19, etc., and the court would like to give meaning to this super structure also adding that the court did not want to broaden the spectrum by endlessly hearing the matter.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2021

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