LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Tuesday directed the provincial secretary for information and culture to hear the point of view of petitioners and producers of Joyland and decide the matter relating to ban on the exhibition of the film within 15 days.

Hearing the petitions by citizens and the producers, Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabbir expressed displeasure over the inaction of the Punjab government in relation to the interim order passed on Nov 17 through which the government had suspended Punjab Censor Board’s certificate granted for screening of the film Joyland in the province.

The judge questioned as to why the interim order was still in operation and the government had still not heard the petitioners, including the producers and the distributors of the film who were aggrieved by the impugned decision.

On behalf of the petitioners, Advocate Usama Khawar Ghumman apprised the court that fundamental rights of the petitioners were at stake, particularly, the freedom of expression and speech, and right to trade and business.

He said the impugned decision of the government did not even fulfill legal requirements to constitute a valid executive action. The requirements mainly include an inquiry and an approval nod by the provincial cabinet, he said.

The counsel argued that the ban was clearly an attempt to silence the media industry, suppress creativity, and letting the dominant narrative of a certain segment of society prevail.

He asked the court to hold accountability of the provincial government for taking such arbitrary and illegal actions.

Justice Shabbir directed the information and culture secretary to pass a final order within 15 days after affording an opportunity of personal hearing to the petitioners and hear them on Dec 28 and pass a speaking order.

The judge expressed concern that an interim order that affected the fundamental rights of the citizens had been in force for the past month and there had been no efforts to decide properly upon the matter.

The petitions were filed by the Distribution Club (Pvt.) Limited, film’s co-producer Sana Zahra and others.

The film had initially been approved for screening throughout Pakistan by both the central and provincial film censor boards in August 2022. Later owing to pressure from some quarters, it was banned nationwide on Nov 11. A censor board review committee lifted the ban subsequently.

However, the Punjab government banned the release of the film in the province on grounds of ‘receiving complaints’.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022

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