ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to former chief judge of the apex court of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Mohammad Shamim, editor-in-chief of Jang Group Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, The News editor Aamir Ghouri and senior journalist Ansar Abbasi over publication of a report about an affidavit of the GB’s ex-judge claiming that former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar had influenced the judicial proceedings to prolong the detention of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz following their conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah directed the above-mentioned respondents to submit their replies by November 26 — the next date of hearing.
The court appointed the Pakistan Bar Council’s vice chairman, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ president, Advocate Faisal Siddiqui and Reema Omer as amici curiae in this matter.
“The attorney general for Pakistan or the advocate general for Islamabad Capital Territory, as the case may be, shall prosecute the alleged contemnors,” the court order said.
CJ Minallah says he won’t hesitate to proceed against former CJP Nisar if evidence brought to substantiate allegations
Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, Aamir Ghouri and Ansar Abbasi appeared before the court.
Advocate Ahmed Hassan Rana, who appeared on behalf of Rana Shamim, informed the court that the latter was not well and, therefore, he could not appear.
Chief Justice Minallah asked Mr Abbasi whether he had contacted the IHC registrar before filing the news report and whether verification of contents of the purported affidavit was made in accordance with the editorial policy and journalistic norms.
Mr Abbasi responded that confirmation of the affidavit was sought from its executor i.e. Rana Shamim, adding that he was only a “messenger” and had not violated any journalistic norm.
Mr Abbasi insisted that he had fulfilled all the journalistic obligations before filing the story; however, if the court still wants to proceed he submits himself to be solely tried under the contempt law as the editor-in-chief and the editor were not responsible for the story in question.
In the affidavit, the GB’s ex-chief judge stated that then CJP Saqib Nisar had made a call to Justice Aamir Farooq of the IHC and asked him not to grant bail to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz before the general elections in 2018.
Justice Minallah, however, made it clear that he would not hesitate to proceed against former CJP Nisar if the above-mentioned respondents bring any iota of evidence to substantiate the allegations.
The court observed that admittedly no attempt was made to seek clarification from the IHC registrar nor to verify the contents of the purported affidavit.
Justice Minallah noted that the journalist was even unaware that Justice Aamir Farooq was not a member of the bench nor that the latter at the relevant time was abroad on ex-Pakistan leave. Moreover, he said, the counsel for the Sharif family who were seeking suspension of sentence were also not contacted to verify whether they had requested that the petition be fixed before the general elections held on July 25, 2018.
Justice Minallah said the then registrar of the Supreme Court, referred to in the purported affidavit, was also not contacted and Mr Abbasi could also not give any satisfactory justification for notarisation of the purported affidavit in the United Kingdom on November 10 this year, while the brother of the executor had passed away in Pakistan on November 6.
The court noted that Rana Mohammad Shamim was appointed chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan in 2015. It is an admitted position that he asserts to have overheard the conversation of former CJP Mian Saqib Nisar in July 2018.
However, Justice Minallah observed that Ansar Abbasi did not inquire from Justice Shamim regarding his silence for almost four years.
“The allegations made in the purported affidavit definitely amounted to grave misconduct. It was his [Mr Shamim] duty to have immediately reported the matter to the Supreme Judicial Council because he himself was holding a responsible judicial office,” the court order said.
“There is also no explanation of the timing of releasing the purported affidavit to a reputable newspaper because the matter related to pending proceedings and the appeals were fixed for hearing on November 17, 2021.
“The inaction on part of Rana Mohammad Shamim and his subsequent conduct were unbecoming of a judicial officer and, prima facie, raises questions regarding his bona fides and integrity. The aforementioned crucial factors were not verified by Mr Ansar Abbasi, Mr Aamir Ghouri, Editor, and Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman, Editor-in-Chief,” the order stated.
Subsequently, Justice Minallah held that “in the facts and circumstances, there is a presumption that the contents of the purported affidavit are false unless these are rebutted”. Furthermore, he said that “the purported affidavit was not part of any judicial proceedings. It related to the appeals pending before this court and which were fixed for hearing on November 17”.
Justice Minallah was of the view that “the object to publish the news story regarding the purported affidavit, prima facie, appears to have been an attempt to obstruct the administration of justice”.
He observed that the news report and the purported affidavit had cast scandalous aspersions on the integrity, independence and impartiality of the high court and its judges and “the alleged contemnors have attempted to undermine public confidence in the impartiality and independence of this court and its honourable judges”.
Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2021