The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday deferred till December 20 the framing of charges in a contempt of court case against former chief justice of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim and three others, related to the publication of an affidavit attributed to the ex-judge in which he accused former jurist Mian Saqib Nisar of colluding to deny bails to top PML-N leadership prior to the general elections 2018.
The court again directed Shamim to submit the original affidavit, having previously directed him to submit it in hearings on November 30 and December 7.
In a written order on December 10, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had warned that charges would be framed if the maker of the affidavit, Shamim, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Jang Group Mir Shakeelur Rehman, senior journalist Ansar Abbasi and resident editor Amer Ghouri failed to show it was executed and published for bona fide purpose.
Justice Minallah had issued the order after going through the reply submitted by Shamim in which he explained reasons for executing the statement on oath — dated November 10, 2021.
In the 'leaked' affidavit, on which Ansar Abbasi's report was based, Shamim allegedly stated that Nisar during his visit to GB made a call to an IHC judge and asked him to ensure that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz are not released on bail before July 25, 2018 general elections. The affidavit was published as part of an investigative report by The News International.
Justice Minallah had subsequently taken notice of the report and later issued show-cause notices to Abbasi, Rehman, Ghouri as well as Shamim under the Contempt of Court Ordinance.
Shamim, Abbasi, Ghouri and Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan were present during today's hearing.
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Minallah questioned whether a newspaper would publish an affidavit given to it by somebody to "tarnish the image" of a judge.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) secretary general Nasir Zaidi, who is an amicus curiae in the case, responded that it was a journalist's duty to publish a news report based on facts.
"The sensationalism of the news gave an impression that judges take directions. It should also have been written that the judge [mentioned in the affidavit] was on leave in those days," Justice Minallah remarked.
He further observed that news of sub judice cases could not be published. He recalled that Shamim had said he had not given the affidavit to anyone.
When the PFUJ secretary general said the country's history was "very harsh", Justice Minallah asked him to not go into the past, remarking that he was only responsible for the Islamabad High Court.
The IHC chief justice said he would not listen to any "political speeches" and asked Zaidi to inform the court if there was a judgement related to the ongoing case regarding the affidavit.
"The public's trust in this court has been damaged by one news [report]," he said.
Observing that the IHC was hearing a case related to a verdict of the International Court of Justice regarding Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav, Justice Minallah repeated that trust in the court was being damaged.
"Rana Shamim says the notary public leaked the document. If his response is sent to the regulator in Britain then it can become a problem for the notary public," the judge said.
Justice Minallah said that "a lot of propaganda had been done against" him in the past but he had never cared about it. "The matter is different in [this case]. This is not about me but my court.
"I will not initiate contempt of court proceedings against anyone no matter what they say [against] me," he remarked.
However, Justice Minallah said the court would not tolerate any attempt to undermine the provision of justice or public confidence.
If somebody raised a matter after a gap of three years, they should have grounds for it, he said. "Did you publish the news of this person (Shamim's) affidavit [without verification]?" he asked journalist Ansar Abbasi.
He added that he represented only the people and no judge was a stakeholder for him.
'Case of my own accountability'
"This isn't just a case of contempt of court but this is my own accountability," Justice Minallah said, remarking that lies were becoming the truth and vice versa and no one could speak about it.
"You can't spread mistrust in the high court like this. It can't be said that just because this has happened before so [the same] will happen now. This is the accountability of me and all my judges."
Attorney General Khan said that Shamim had admitted in his response that if he wanted to malign the judiciary then it would have been written in Pakistan and released to the media. "Rana Shamim admitted that the purpose of leaking his affidavit was to ridicule the judiciary," the AG said, calling on the court to set a date for indictment.
"Rana Shamim voiced concerns of affidavit being leaked after leaking it himself," he added.
For his part, senior journalist Ansar Abbasi said Shamim had not stopped him from publishing the news of the affidavit.
Justice Minallah asked him how much people's trust had been damaged due to his headline.
"We have a motto that only the people are the stakeholders. If the people's trust is lost then nothing is left. Now the lie has become the truth and the truth seems a lie," he remarked to which Abbasi said: "God willing, we will never stand with [a] lie."
Justice Minallah responded that the court would proceed in accordance with the law.
"Ansar Abbasi sahb, you should have seen that no appeal had been filed on July 15, 2018," the judge observed.
He was referring to the affidavit attributed to Shamim in which the ex-judge had mentioned former CJP Nisar's call with an IHC judge about not granting bail to Nawaz and Maryam in the Avenfield Apartment reference.
"I know there are cases [based on] narratives," he said. "You (Abbasi) have submitted your response. We will proceed according to international practices."
The AG said there was a clear difference in Shamim and Abbasi's statements. He said Abbasi should submit a counter-affidavit against the affidavit attributed to Shamim.
Abbasi only had to satisfy the court whether his news story was in accordance with the law or not, Justice Minallah said.
The court directed the journalist to read the published news story and state whatever he wanted to say in the counter-affidavit.
Justice Minallah adjourned the hearing till December 20, directing Shamim to submit the original affidavit before that date. He also directed the other respondents to submit counter-affidavits.
Shamim was bombarded with questions from reporters after the hearing, to which he only responded with "no comments".
Counsel confirms accuracy of affidavit's content
In the last hearing on December 7, Shamim's counsel confirmed to the court that the content of the affidavit attributed to his client was indeed accurate.
He, however, added that the affidavit was not supposed to be published.
The counsel had also informed the court that the original affidavit was with Shamim's grandson, who was "underground" in the United Kingdom because he was being harassed.
Justice Minallah had then remarked that people did not go into hiding in the UK, adding that the high court was being "targeted" and the submission of the original affidavit was necessary for progress in the case.
Later that week, Shamim's name was placed on the Provincial National Identification List (PNIL) — a 30-day temporary travel restriction introduced in 2018 as an alternative to the more tedious Exit Control List (ECL).
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had said at the time that Shamim's name had been placed on the PNIL "so he doesn't run away".