Isa-led panel to probe veracity of audio leaks

Published May 21, 2023
This combination of photos shows Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq (L), senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa (C) and Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan (R). — Pictures via IHC/SC websites and Facebook.
This combination of photos shows Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq (L), senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa (C) and Balochistan High Court Chief Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan (R). — Pictures via IHC/SC websites and Facebook.

• CJP Bandial ‘not consulted’ on formation of body
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ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Satur­day notified the formation of a three-man commission headed by a Supreme Court judge, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, to probe audio clips leaked on social media over months, with some of the clips raising concerns regarding the independence of judiciary.

The commission, formed under Section 3 of the Pakistan Commission of Inquiry Act 2017, is required to conclude the task within a month.

Besides Justice Isa, Balochistan High Court CJ Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Islamabad High Court CJ Aamer Farooq are members of the commission which will have “all the power to fix responsibility against the delinquents for their alleged role behind phone tapping and could exercise authority to constitute special teams consisting of experts, or form an international team and seek international cooperation or exercise powers” under CrPC.

In response to a question, an insider told Dawn that Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial was not consulted before the constitution of the commission — a common practice — as some of the leaks reportedly concerned his family members. Therefore, the CJP was “conflicted”; this was the reason he was not “req­uested to suggest names of judges to become members of the commission”.

Earlier, Justice Isa led probes into the Memogate and the Quetta carnage.

According to an SRO issued on May 19, 2023, the controversial audio leaks regarding judiciary and former chief justices raised serious apprehensions about the independence, impartiality and uprightness of CJPs and judges of the superior courts in the administration of justice.

“Such audio leaks have eroded public trust besides serious concerns have been raised by the general public regarding the independence, impartiality and uprightness of the CJPs and judges of the sup­erior courts,” the notification said, adding that judiciary was one of the main pillars under the Con­stitution and the society’s confidence was shattered when the independence of judiciary was tarnished.

“Therefore it is imperative to [hold] inquiry into the authenticity, correctness and veracity of these audio leaks to restore not just the credibility of the judiciary but also the public trust and confidence in the judiciary in the larger public interest, as a matter of definite public importance,” explained the SRO.

Veracity of audio leaks

According to the ToR, the commission will probe the authenticity of the audio leaks purportedly concerning the judiciary, a call between ex-CM Parvez Elahi and a lawyer regarding a Supreme Court judge; between Mr Elahi and lawyer Abid Zuberi regarding fixation of some cases before a particular SC bench; between Mr Elahi and an SC judge; between ex-CJP Saqib Nisar and lawyer Khawaja Tariq Rahim; between lawyer Tariq Rahim and journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui on the outcome of a case pertaining to Imran Khan’s arrest on May 9; between Mr Khan and his party member about their links in the SC; between the mother-in-law of a top judge and wife of a lawyer regarding cases in SC; between the son of ex-CJP and his friend discussing the role of the ex-CJP in the award of the election ticket for a political party.

The commission will also inquire into the correctness of the allegations surfacing on print and electronic media and social media allegedly regarding the son-in-law (Ali Afzal Sahi) of the Lahore High Court CJ, allegedly influencing judicial proceedings before the LHC.

The commission will also determine violation, if any, of integrity or the process of administration of justice, independence of the judiciary, right to fair trial and equality of citizens, to determine the liability incurred by any or all persons named in the alleged audio leaks against or any other person or public office holders including under the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 or any other law, to determine as to whether any disciplinary proceedings are attracted.

The commission will also be empowered to fix the responsibility of any person or public office holder aiding and abetting by any act in violation of the laws of Pakistan so determined, to recommend any necessary legal action by any agency, department or person etc. If these audio leaks proved to be fake or fabricated, the commission will inquire into and fix responsibility with regards to who is making these and recommend action to be taken in this regard, it added.

According to the TORs, it will be the duty of all executive authorities in the federal [government] and the provinces to aid the commission and comply with any of its directions.

The commission will be entitled to establish a secretariat and appoint a secretary for the inquiry at the cost of the federal government whereas the attorney general for Pakistan will assist the commission by providing all documents and material required by it.

The commission will initiate the inquiry immediately after the notification of its constitution and will conclude the investigation and submit its report to the federal government within 30 days which can be extended.

‘Powerful elements’

Meanwhile, PTI Chairman Imran Khan emphasised that the commission should be empowered to probe ‘powerful elements’ behind audio leaks, which allegedly tapped and recorded telephone conversations of citizens, including high public functionaries.

In a statement, he said the ToR formed by the federal government suffered from a deliberate omission since they failed to take into account the issue that who was behind unlawful and unconstitutional surveillance of the PM Office and sitting judges of the Supreme Court.

“The commission should be empowered to investigate who are these powerful and unknown elements who tap and record telephone conversations of citizens, including high public functionaries,” Imran Khan said, adding this was a serious breach of privacy guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.

“Not only those who illegally retrieve data through unlawful phone tapping and surveillance should be held accountable but those who through fabrication and tampering of different phone calls leak them on social media also need to be held accountable,” he emphasised.

He said some of the recent leaked calls were made over what was supposed to be a secure phone line in the PM Office.

Nevertheless, he said, they unlawfully tapped and fabricated/tampered with and added that the elements behind such audacious tapping seemingly operate in a manner outside the command and even knowledge of the PM.

“Who are these actors above the law and outside the command of even the prime minister of the country, and who resort to such illegal surveillance with impunity? Such elements need to be held identified by the commission,” he stressed.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2023

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