The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday asked Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan which “public authority or agency” should be held accountable for tapping phones without legal cover.
The court raised the question in a seven-page order issued on a petition filed by Najam Saqib, son of former chief justice Saqib Nisar, against a National Assembly committee tasked with investigating his purported audio leak, wherein a voice said to be his could be heard demanding a “reward” from a PTI leader for securing him the party ticket to contest Punjab elections.
In his petition, Najam had requested the court to stop the proceedings of the parliamentary panel headed by Aslam Bhootani, claiming that the body was formed in violation of the National Assembly rules.
A day earlier, the IHC had taken up the plea and asked, “Who records the audios.” It also sought a response from the government by June 19 and barred the NA committee from taking any action against the ex-CJP’s son.
In a detailed order issued today, Justice Babar Sattar raised multiple questions regarding the entities accountable for surveillance and the regulatory framework governing recording and surveillance activities, specifically inquiring about the legality of such actions.
“To the extent that recording of phone calls is permitted, which public authority or agency is authorised to do so, how is the right of a citizen to liberty and privacy balanced against the interest of the state in recording phone calls or undertaking surveillance and which agency is vested with legal authority to undertake such balancing exercise?” the judge asked.
He also inquired if the Constitution empowered the government for surveilling phone calls or telecommunication between private citizens.
“…If so, the supervisory and regulatory legal regime within which such recording and surveillance can take place?”
Justice Sattar also questioned the mandate of the Parliament in forming committees to look into matters pertaining to private individuals.
“Does the Constitution and the rules framed under it to regulate parliamentary procedure vest in the office of the Speaker of National Assembly the authority to constitute a special committee to investigate actions attributable to a private citizen who is not a member of Parliament or a public officeholder?”
“… Which public authority or agency is to be held liable for such surveillance and encroachment over the right of citizens to liberty and privacy and/or release of illegally recorded private conversations to the public?” it asked.
“Is the Parliament vested with legal authority to inquire into and investigate acts of private citizens who hold no public office or whether assuming such power intrudes into the domain of the executive?” the court inquired.
It also directed the ministries of interior and defence, the Federation through the Prime Minister’s Office and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to be made respondents in the case.
The respondents were further instructed to submit point-by-point comments to the court within two weeks from the date of the order.
Najam had also challenged the “legality and validity” of the National Assembly speaker’s decision to form the special committee to “audit, inquire and investigate” his alleged audio clip.
“Under the garb of these audio leaks, a campaign has been launched against the petitioner and his father that some kind of gratification has been obtained by Abuzar Chaddhar for the said ticket,” he said.
While he conceded that his father played a role in the award of a PTI ticket to Chaddhar, the petition, however, stated that Chaddhar explored other avenues as well to secure the party ticket.
Najam said, “the petitioner is very clear in his mind that Abuzar Chaddhar was given the ticker on the basis of positive decision taken in the appeal on merit”.
According to the petition, “The audio leak is a result of illegal surveillance of the petitioner’s privacy which can neither be disseminated nor be used for incriminating the petitioner”. Citing its evidential value, the petition said “any document or audio leak cannot be used in any trial or inquiry” unless it is clear that who recorded it or for what purpose.
In the audio in question, a voice purported to be that of Najam can be heard saying to the person on the other end that his father had worked very hard to get the job done and the caller on the other side, said to be PTI ticket hopeful Abuzar Chaddhar, can be heard saying he would come to meet Najam’s father after submitting the ticket.
In the clip, the voice said to be Najam’s can also be heard asking Chaddhar to meet his father the same day and, in conversation with another caller — identified as Mian Uzair — asking for “not only delivery of the goods, don’t take less than 120”.
Chaddhar was granted a PTI ticket in the second phase when party chairman Imran Khan reviewed and changed his earlier decision for 22 seats.
In the audio, a voice purported to be Chaddhar’s can be heard as saying that “your efforts have paid off” and he would come straight to meet him [ex-CJP] after submitting the ticket [with the ECP] before 12 noon.
According to Geo News, the former CJP confirmed that the audio was of his son’s but that the facts had been “doctored”.