ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has hinted at forming a judicial commission for the probe into Arshad Sharif’s killing after judges agreed that the team earlier formed for this task failed to make any significant headway.

The hearing of the suo motu notice by the chief justice into the killing resumed on Friday after more than a month. During the proceedings, Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial conceded that no progress has been made in the investigation.

The CJP recalled that the mother of the slain journalist and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had requested the court to appoint a judicial commission, but it ordered the constitution of a JIT as unlike the investigation, no confidentiality was attached to the commission’s proceedings.

On Friday, the victim’s mother questioned the SC’s role in the investigation, pleading that the suo motu hearing amounted to supervising the Special Joint Investigation Team’s probe.

Late journalist’s mother questions role of court in ‘supervising’ investigation

She added that this was contrary to settled laws that superior courts should not oversee investigations.

“In my humble opinion with bonafide intent [that] the hearing amounts to supervising the investigations,” argued former judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, the counsel of Mr Sharif’s mother.

The counsel argued that the issue of the registration of FIR as per the family’s will must be resolved or in case of refusal, the family could approach the Justice of Peace under Section 22-A of the Criminal Procedure Code.

He remarked that the case involved the entire journalist community since Mr Sharif was not only a journalist but also a citizen of Pakistan and an important personality.

The justice of peace is a sessions judge with powers to issue directions to the police on any complaint regarding non-registration of FIR or negligence or failure by police in an investigation or other proceedings.

The CJP observed that the court waited for over five months after the tragic incident took place on Oct 23, 2022. It only initiated suo motu proceedings since no progress was made as the matter involved Pakistan and two foreign territories, CJP Bandial observed.

This incident terrorises the entire journalist community since lessons could be drawn from what happened to him, the CJP observed.

While referring to the concerns raised by the victim’s mother, the CJP emphasised the court was not supervising the investigation.

He added that the court’s relationship with journalists ‘was of great respect and tolerance’ as it patiently listened to criticism and never initiated contempt proceedings against them.

SC’s role

Rather, the court requested the government to provide funds so that the SJIT could visit Dubai and Kenya for the probe, CJP Bandial added.

It is, however, another issue that despite the visit, no cooperation was achieved from the two countries.

“We are not trying to implicate or protect anyone rather we are taking the incident as a serious crime,” the CJP emphasised, adding that had the court not intervened, the matter may have been prolonged.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar, a member of the bench, asked the counsel if he wanted the court to drop the proceedings.

“Is this your purpose?” Justice Mazhar remarked, adding that the court was not supervising but facilitating the probe.

Justice Ijazul Ahsan also observed that the court was not acquitting or punishing any individual and the case was initiated ‘in the largest interest of the journalist community’.

The legal course for the aggrieved party is not closed with the present hearing, Justice Ahsan observed, adding that they were free to approach the justice of peace or become part of the investigations since the court was not interfering in the probe.

The court was facilitating government organs because the issue has national implications, Justice Ahsan added.

Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi reminded the counsel that the killing took place outside Pakistan and that the supervision was within the court’s domain.

The counsel said his client approached every forum but FIR could not be registered until now.

Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel inquired what prejudice was being caused to the victim’s mother due to the court’s proceedings.

On the issue of foreign cooperation, Additional Attorney General Chaudhry Aamir Rehman said the prime minister had talked to the Kenyan president on Feb 20 on the matter.

The Kenyan president had assured full cooperation and asked to liaison with his deputy. But they are yet to appoint any focal person, AAG Rehman pleaded.

A Mutual Legal Assistance request has been sent to the Kenyan government and the Pakistani mission in Nairobi has been asked to appoint local lawyers.

Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN has also been asked to follow up on the UN’s involvement in the matter.

The AAG regretted that the UAE government was also not responding to the request for assistance.

The CJP observed that the critical question was why the journalist left the country and there should be clarity on what transpired before this development.

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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