• Move follows ‘malicious campaign’ against judiciary after PTI symbol verdict
• Team constituted under Peca includes officials from police, FIA, PTA and intelligence agencies
• PBC, SCBA back chief justice, decry undue criticism
• PTI slams lawyer bodies’ presser, insists Jan 13 judgement was ‘flawed’

ISLAMABAD: The car­e­taker government on Tue­s­day formed a five-member joint investigation team (JIT) to “ascertain facts behind a malicious social media campaign” against Supreme Court judges.

Meanwhile, the country’s premier legal bodies came to the aid of Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and the Supreme Court against the backdrop of a “smear campaign” that erupted on social media soon after the Jan 13 judgement.

The JIT — formed under Section 30 (power to investigate) of the controversial Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 — will be convened by the additional director general of the Federal Investiga­tion Agency’s (FIA) cybercrime wing, according to an interior ministry notification, seen by Dawn.

It also comprises representatives of the Intelli­gence Bureau, Inter-Serv­ices Intelli­ge­nce, the Pak­is­tan Telecom­m­u­nication Authority (PTA), and the deputy inspector general of Islamabad police. The team can co-opt any other member if required.

The notification, signed by FIA Deputy Secretary Muhammad Ziaul Haq, said the JIT’s terms of reference would be to “ascertain facts behind malicious social media campaign attempting to malign the image of the honourable judges of the Supreme Court”.

The committee will also identify and bring culprits to book in accordance with relevant laws, present challans in relevant courts and recommend measures to prevent such incidents in future.

“The JIT shall submit a preliminary report to the Ministry of Interior within a fortnight,” the notification said, adding that the FIA headquarters would provide support to the panel during the investigation.

The authorities did not identify any social media posts they deem part of the campaign.

After marathon hearings last week, a three-member Supreme Court bench headed by CJP Isa on Jan 13 upheld the Election Commission’s decision to revoke the PTI’s iconic electoral symbol, the cricket bat, and declare its intra-party polls “unconstitutional”.

PBC, SCBA back Justice Isa

Meanwhile, in a media interaction at the Supreme Court building in Islam­abad, officials of the Pak­is­tan Bar Council (PBC) and the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) backed CJP Isa amid renewed criticism following the Jan 13 judgement. They stressed that everybody had the right to criticise any judgement, but they would not tolerate the criticism of judges and the apex court using foul language.

The representatives who spoke on the occasion included PBC Vice Chair­man Haroonur Rashid; the chairman of its executive committee, Hassan Raza Pasha; senior member Qalbe Hassan; and SCBA President Shahzad Shaukat.

Mr Rashid asked senior lawyers not to use contemptuous remarks against judges and to exercise caution in their commentary on judgements while maintaining their respect.

Mr Shaukat lamented the tendency to initiate disparaging campaigns against judges and the courts. He insisted that passing fair comments on any judgement was acceptable, but mere criticism to bring the judiciary into disrepute should not be tolerated.

He said the SCBA had monitored all programmes on different TV channels after the Jan 13 judgement and concluded that no one could find holes in the verdict, but everyone was merely criticising the denial of the election symbol.

Referring to arguments that the top court could have given the benefit to the mainstream political party under Article 17 of the Constitution, a provision that talks about people’s right to form a political party, Mr Shaukat explained that constitutional rights were subject to and subservient to laws.

He said the lawyer bodies would take all possible measures to block with force the trend of unleashing a disparaging campaign against the judiciary.

Mr Pasha said both PBC and SCBA were on the same page in disseminating a clear message that the two bodies would not tolerate attempts to belittle the respect and prestige of the top judiciary and their adjudicators.

Qalbe Hassan of the PBC called for a representative convention of office-bearers of all the bar councils and associations of the country to take a joint stand against the tendency to malign the judiciary and the judges on social media after an unfavourable verdict.

This, he said, was essential to save democracy, which couldn’t survive if the highest judicial institutions like the Supreme Court were targeted with impunity in such a regrettable manner.

The officials also asked the PTA and the FIA that instead of becoming silent spectators, they should swiftly move by tracing social media accounts that generate such campaigns.

At the same time, the court should also initiate contempt of court proceedings against those found guilty of launching smear campaigns against judges, they said.

PTI flays ‘political presser’

Meanwhile, the PTI vehemently rejected the PBC and SCBA’s “political press conference”, saying it was part of the same scheme under which the door of free and fair elections had been closed by the Supreme Court upon 125 million voters of the country.

In a statement, a PTI spokesperson said the SC decision to strip the party of its electoral symbol was absolutely flawed and offensive and allegedly opened the door to a distortion in the constitutional and democratic scheme of the country.

He claimed that of the 175 political parties in the country, the PTI conducted the most effective and transparent intra-party elections. He said the party conducted two intra-party polls — on June 8, 2022, and Dec 2, 2023 — on which the ECP could not raise any reasonable and legal objections.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2024

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