ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday indicted former Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Chief Judge Rana Mohammad Shamim for contempt of court over an affidavit in which the judge had accused a former chief justice of the country of trying to manipulate the outcome of a case involving Nawaz Sharif.

However, the court deferred the framing of charges against journalists Ansar Abbasi and Aamir Ghauri and Jang Group’s owner Mir Shakeelur Rehman after journalists’ bodies assured the court they would devise a code of conduct to regulate reporting on sub judice matters.

The affidavit in question alleged that former chief justice Saqib Nisar had made a phone call to a judge of the Islamabad High Court, asking that ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz not be released from prison until after the 2018 elections.

The charges framed by the court include the execution of an affidavit containing scandalous allegations, and not seeking any legal recourse against the notary public or the journalist who published its contents, following the leak of the sealed document.

IHC defers framing charges against The News journalists, owner following assurances a code of conduct will be developed for ‘sub judice matters’

The charge sheet stated that contrary to his stance that the affidavit was kept in a sealed envelope, “upon the receipt of the document executed by you it was found to be enclosed in an envelope of the courier service, which belies your statement that you had sealed the same under your hand”.

The court also charged him for his three-year silence, holding that executing the affidavit in November last year was an attempt to undermine the court’s dignity, bring the administration of justice into disrespect and divert the course of justice.

The attorney general told the court that at the next hearing on Feb 15, Rana Shamim would be given an opportunity to submit evidence or proof to establish his innocence, while the prosecution will provide evidence to substantiate the charges.

When the court took up the case on Thur­sday, Rana Mohammad Shamim was present but his counsel was not in attendance.

However, the court told him that in order to frame charges, only his presence was required.

Nasir Zaidi and Afzal Butt, representing journalists’ bodies, told the court that the media was already facing suffocation and any adverse order passed by a judge that believes in civil liberties, freedom of expression and independent media would adversely affect journalists’ rights.

They conceded that the significance of the ‘sub judice rule’ had been highlighted for the first time during these proceedings, adding that the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and other representative organisations had decided to prescribe guidelines for the reporting of such matters.

They acknowledged that the news item based on the affidavit of Rana Mohammad Shamim did not meet the standards required to be observed in the context of the ‘sub judice rule’, but stressed that in the absence of any incriminating material showing malice, mala fide or intent to breach the ‘sub judice rule’ in part of the journalist would have profound.

Justice Minallah agreed with their assessment, saying that while a free press and media guaranteed and protected the independence of judiciary, “the freedom enjoyed by a reporter, editor and publisher is not absolute. It is subject to respecting other rights, particularly those of the litigants.”

His order noted that: “The demonstrably expressed realisation by representatives of journalists and their resolve to set guidelines in the context of the ‘sub judice rule’ is indeed a step forward and must be appreciated.”

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan also argued that the role of Ansar Abbasi, Aamir Ghauri and Mir Shakeelur Rehman was secondary, and although they had failed to exercise reasonable care, at this stage, proceedings under the Ordinance of 2003 are not warranted.

The court agreed, but noted in its order that if, during proceedings against Rana Shamim, some material or evidence surfaced indicating malice or intent on part of the reporter, editor and editor-in-chief, they would have to face legal proceedings.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2022

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