ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday deferred indictment of former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Mohammad Shamim, senior journalists Ansar Abbasi and Aamir Ghauri and Editor-in-Chief of Jang Group Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman till Jan 20 in the contempt of court case.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah resumed hearing of the case based on an affidavit of Mr Shamim that accuses former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar of manipulating judicial proceedings and hindering release of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz.

The amici curiae in the case were of the view that the journalists could not be indicted. Even the attorney general, who has been appointed as prosecutor to try the alleged contemnors, said that Mr Shamim being principal accused might be indicted forthwith while framing of charge against the journalist should be deferred.

During the course of the hearing, Mr Abbasi reiterated his stance that the story about Mr Shamim’s affidavit was filed with due care and he had withheld the name of the judge and the high court in the report.

Amici curiae say charge cannot be framed against the journalists

Faisal Siddiqui, an amicus curiae, pointed out that the court in successive observations had never observed that the story was published with mala fide intent or maliciously.

He was of the view that the intention of the journalist was not to disrupt the administration of justice and the court showed grace in such circumstances.

Advocate Siddiqui said that the court had termed the story merely an instance of recklessness and that did not fall within the ambit of contempt of court.

Justice Minallah remarked that there was no sign of remorse for such recklessness.

Reema Omar, another amicus curiae, said that freedom of expression was not absolute. She said that social media created hype after the affidavit circulated on various platforms. The newspaper took precautions before publishing the story but there was no editorial check on the contents and vlogs that surfaced in social media, she added.

Nasir Zaidi, representing the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), pointed out that journalists in Pakistan were already working under certain pressures and uncongenial environment.

He expressed apprehension that any adverse order by a well-respected judge would pave way for others to curtail freedom of expression.

Justice Minallah assured that he would never pass any order that would ever restrict freedom of expression.

AG Khalid Jawed Khan suggested that the media should not promote political narrative about the pending litigation and should demonstrate the bona fide.

If a journalist made a mistake while reporting a fact, there was no shame if he accepted his recklessness and tendered an apology, he said, adding that such an attitude only increased his respect.

The court inquired about the absence of Shakeel-ur-Rehman. Mr Abbasi replied that Mr Rehman was in quarantine since his family members had tested Covid-19 positive.

Subsequently, the court adjourned further hearing in this matter till Jan 20.

Bol TV owner, Pemra chairman summoned Hearing another case related to hate speech, the IHC chief justice directed the chief executive officer of Bol TV and the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Perma) to appear in person in the court.

Justice Minallah was hearing a petition filed by Bol TV against the fine imposed on it by Pemra for accusing Jang Group of airing blasphemous contents.

The chief justice inquired from Nasir Zaidi the consequences of accusing someone of committing blasphemy. He replied that this was a very heinous allegations and entailed grave consequences.

Justice Minallah observed that the Pemra chairman was required to cancel the licence of the television channel.

Mr Zaidi expressed apprehension that scores of employees working in the media house would lose jobs if the court issued such a directive.

Referring to the Sialkot incident of public lynching of a Sri Lankan national, the chief justice remarked that accusing someone of blasphemy was tantamount to give a licence of killing the accused person.

He summoned Bol TV owner Shoaib Sheikh and Pemra chairman Mirza Saleem Baig and adjourned the hearing.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2022

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