ISLAMABAD: The judiciary had to step in during the political crisis earlier this month to protect supremacy of the Constitution, the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) said on Friday with reference to insinuations by certain quarters about the opening of the court on the night of April 9 amid developments which led to the ouster of then prime minister Imran Khan.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah, hearing a petition filed by ARY television anchorperson Arshad Sharif complaining of harassment by law enforcement agencies, directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the inspector general of police, Islamabad Capital Territory, “not to harass nor take any adverse action against the petitioner or other journalists relating to their professional duties and functions”.
The court observed that ARY TV had violated constitutional provisions by launching a baseless campaign against the judiciary.
Justice Minallah put a question to the petitioner’s counsel about “the systematic vilification campaign against the judiciary” in the context of the events of April 9.
Says ARY has launched an ‘unconstitutional campaign’ against judiciary
The chief justice had ordered opening of the IHC that night to receive some petitions related to the political crisis, including one which sought the court’s intervention to stop the army chief’s removal after rumours started circulating in the capital that the government had decided to do so.
But the IHC administration clarified through a press release on April 11 that the court reopened to hear a petition filed by Ahsan Bhoon, the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), seeking implementation of an order of the Supreme Court against a ruling by Qasim Suri, who was then deputy speaker of the National Assembly.
Justice Minallah made an observation that the military coups of 1977 and 1999 could have been averted had the judiciary stood firm and courts reopened after the regular timing.
He noted that attempts had been made, particularly by ARY News, to malign the Supreme Court and the IHC in an attempt to erode the nation’s trust in the judicial system.
Justice Minallah asked counsel Faisal Hussain and Ali Bukhari whether any order was passed, or a petition entertained, on the evening of April 9 that might have prejudiced someone or interfered with proceedings of other constitutional bodies.
They answered in the negative.
“It appears as if they were also not aware that in the past this court has entertained several petitions after the official timings,” Justice Minallah observed.
The petition received on the evening of April 9 was entertained and the petitioner fined for filing frivolous petitions.
“In response to another query, it was regrettably conceded that it was not the policy of the channel to give air time to issues such as grave violation of fundamental rights of victims of enforced disappearances or the students of Balochistan,” the court order stated.
“The systematic campaign against the august Supreme Court, as well as this court (Islamabad High Court), particularly by ARY News channel, appears to be based on an imaginary narrative and in disregard to the notified policy of the court to receive petitions after court timings, provided they involve extreme urgency,” observed the IHC.
Vilification of judiciary
Justice Minallah said ARY had launched an unconstitutional campaign against the judiciary. “The systematic vilification campaign against the Supreme Court and this court without any basis or prejudice having been caused to any person has profound consequences for those litigants who are admittedly denied a voice by television channels in violation of their obligations under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.”
The court summoned the bureau chief of ARY News on April 12 and asked him to “justify the systematic campaign against the august Supreme Court and this court [IHC]”.
Humayun Bashir Tarar, the Director of FIA, informed the court that no proceedings had been initiated against the petitioner. The counsel for Arshad Sharif complained that threatening messages were received by the petitioner and some other journalists.
The FIA director assured the court that no one would be unnecessarily harassed. The court adjourned further hearing to May 12.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2022