ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has virtually discarded the opinion of amici curiae about absolving Jang Group’s editor-in-chief Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and senior journalists Ansar Abbasi and Aamir Ghauri in contempt proceedings related to an affidavit of former Gilgit-Baltistan chief judge Rana Mohammad Shamim and decided to indict them as well as Mr Shamim on Jan 20.
The IHC issued an order about court proceedings of Jan 7 in which Chief Justice Athar Minallah held that “three amici curiae Mr Nasir Zaidi, secretary general of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Mr Faisal Siddiqui, an Advocate of Supreme Court, and Reema Omar have also extended their assistance…Their focus was mainly on freedom of expression and a free press… The amici curiae obviously have not suggested that the stance taken by the alleged contemnors should be accepted so that in future litigants and third parties are facilitated to abuse a widely circulated newspaper so as to interfere with pending proceedings with impunity. The amici curiae have also not suggested that the sub judice rule has become redundant”.
The court order stated: “It prima facie, appears from the news report published by the alleged contemnors during pending judicial proceedings, that they are not familiar with the sub judice rule nor that they had taken reasonable care by obtaining legal opinion. This is also manifested by news reports published in The News International and daily Jang by the alleged contemnors during and relating to the proceedings in hand. They have published news report regarding opinions of national and international entities/organisations relating to these contempt proceedings.”
In the order, Justice Minallah observed: “The liberty and independence of the press is of utmost importance, because it guarantees the independence of judiciary and ensures enforcement of other fundamental rights. But as noted it is not absolute and definitely does not license a journalist or publishers of widely circulated newspaper to prejudice sub judice proceedings and obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice.”
IHC observes their stance in affidavit case undermines public trust in justice
Also, the order mentioned that counsel for the ex-chief judge, Latif Afridi, could not persuade the court for not framing charges against the alleged contemnors. “Regrettably, despite giving reasonable opportunity to the alleged contemnors, they have unequivocally stated that no wrong has been committed by them. The case of the reporter, editor and editor in chief is of more significance, because if their stance is accepted, then the sub judice rule would not only become redundant, but the court would be licensing widely circulated newspapers to recklessly publish contents of a document that could be false and tend to influence the outcome of pending proceedings,” stated the court order.
It went on to say that journalists’ stance contradicted the established international best practices in the profession of journalism in the context of the sub judice rule. Their stance is inherently contradictory and not in public interest. However, they have been adamant in their stance, which is violative of the sub judice rule and tends to undermine the confidence of the people, particularly the litigants in the administration of justice.
Subsequently, the court directed Mr Shamim and the journalists to appear in person on Jan 20 for indictment.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022