The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday indicted former Gilgit-Baltistan chief justice Rana Shamim in a contempt of court case but deferred the framing of charges against the media personnel also named in the case, including journalist Ansar Abbasi and Jang Group owner Mir Shakeelur Rehman.
The contempt case stemmed from a news report published in The News International last year that highlighted Shamim's affidavit in which he accused former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar of instructing a high court judge to keep PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz incarcerated until 2018 general elections.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had taken notice of the report and subsequently initiated contempt proceedings as Nawaz and Maryam's case was being heard in the Islamabad High Court. Apart from Shamim, the story's author Abbasi, Rehman and The News editor Aamir Ghauri were also named in the case.
Shamim, Abbasi and amicus curiae Nasir Zaidi, a representative of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, were in the court today.
As the court proceedings began, Justice Minallah said that charges would be framed first before everything else. The session was briefly adjourned as Shamim requested the court to wait until his counsel, Abdul Latif Afridi, arrived.
Shamim informed the court that he had filed two new petitions to which he was given the same answer that they would be looked into once charges were framed.
The IHC chief justice said the court had been disrespected and questioned whether anyone had any issue with the high court.
"A perception is being created specifically regarding on this court. What sort of perception is this that the judges of this court are compromised?" the judge pondered.
Justice Minallah said the court could not give a license for anyone to disrespect it. "[It is] not even realised that there was an attempt to influence a case [that was being heard in court]. This court believes in open accountability and welcomes it. Has there been any order from July 2018 till now on which this perception [of judges being compromised] fits?
"The article is not related to Saqib Nisar but it has to do with this court. People have been told the judges of this court are compromised. A case was fixed for hearing two days later when the story was published," Justice Minallah said.
He added that if there was any mistake then the court should be informed so action could be taken.
Zaidi sought permission to address the court but was denied, with the judge saying: "There is no need for you to say anything. We've already said that their (media's) role is secondary."
The judge did question the publishing policy of the newspaper that carried the story of Shamim's affidavit. "What would happen if tomorrow any third party gives a paper and we print it? If such a big newspaper says that they had not taken any legal opinion in this regard then that will be injustice," he remarked.
Zaidi said a lot had been learned from the case's proceedings and acknowledged that care should be taken while covering such stories. "We faced military courts and today we are facing an independent judiciary," he said.
The amicus curiae said that initiating contempt of court proceedings would send a "wrong message" to the rest of the world when the court was itself in the favour of freedom of expression.
"This is a learning process for us [as well]. If there is no freedom of expression then there will be no independent judiciary," the judge replied to Zaidi.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan requested the court that charges be framed against only Shamim and deferred against the other three. He advised the court to drop charges against the three media personnel if they even agree with Zaidi's remarks.
Advocate Faisal Siddiqui, also an amicus curiae in the case, took the rostrum and appreciated Zaidi's remarks, saying that other media personnel should follow suit and issue a statement that they will be more careful in the future.
"The way this case is being reported in the media is also against subjudice rule," Siddiqui said, to which the judge responded that it could have "dangerous consequences" if it was proven that it was done deliberately.
Shamim's request for inquiry, prosecutor's removal denied
The chief justice addressed Shamim and asked if he had heard any contempt cases himself during his tenure as a judge. Shamim responded in the negative, saying he had neither heard such cases and nor believed in the concept of contempt.
At this point, Justice Minallah gave Shamim the opportunity to present the arguments made in his petitions. Shamim said that in the first petition he requested that a fact-finding inquiry be conducted into the case instead of framing the charges. In the other petition, he requested for the attorney general to be removed as the prosecutor.
He also said it was important for the requirements of justice that Nisar's reply was also made part of the inquiry and cross-examined. "This will not be a case of criminal contempt unless the facts stated in the affidavit are proven wrong," he argued.
The court proceeded to reject Shamim's petitions and indicted him.
Reading out the charge sheet, Justice Minallah noted that Shamim had recorded an affidavit in England in which he claimed that former CJP Nisar had gone to Gilgit-Baltistan on vacations. "According to you he instructed that Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz should not be released before the [general] election ," the judge said.
The IHC judge asked Shamim if he had heard the charges and accepted them, to which the latter replied that some things in them were "agreeable" while others were not.
At this, Justice Minallah asked Shamim if he was admitting his mistake. Shamim replied that he was not.
Media personnel's part to be revisited later
The former GB judge questioned whether he was the only one who was indicted, to which Justice Minallah said: "We will see the rest [later]. Submit your written response and your affidavit."
Shamim said if the court had already made up its mind then he should be sentenced today, adding that "injustice should not be committed against me like this."
Meanwhile, the IHC decided to not frame charges against the journalists today, noting that the matter was "temporarily deferred".
"If it is found during the trial that the news was published deliberately [to cast aspersion on judges] then action will be taken," Justice Minallah noted.
The case was adjourned till February 15.
Later, Shamim expressed ignorance when a reporter asked him outside the court that who had leaked the affidavit attributed to him.
"How will I know [who leaked the affidavit]. This is what I am asking the court," Shamim said while speaking to media persons. "My query before the court is that whoever has leaked this (the affidavit) should be questioned."
Asked whether he told Ansar Abbasi that the affidavit was a privileged document when the journalist approached him for his stance on the matter, Shamim replied: "I told him."
"I told him," he repeated and added after a pause, "that until I am shown the affidavit, I cannot say anything".
To a question seeking confirmation whether he had signed the affidavit in PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's office, the former judge replied, "Don't talk nonsense."