FIA notices

Published January 30, 2024

WITH its overzealous ‘investigation’ of an alleged “malicious social media campaign” against Supreme Court judges, the caretaker government has not only managed to embarrass itself but the superior judiciary as well. There had been an outcry over the weekend as several prominent journalists, including well-known reporters assigned to the Supreme Court beat, took to social media to share that they had been issued notices by the FIA under the draconian Peca Act, summoning them for questioning in relation to remarks they had made on social media. As outrage grew over what many saw as the interim government making a ham-fisted attempt to silence criticism of the Supreme Court’s Jan 13 verdict in the PTI’s election symbol case, the caretaker information minister appeared on TV on Sunday to deny that there was any ‘witch-hunt’ against journalists while he expounded on the limitations of free speech. The press conference was apparently prompted by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa taking suo motu notice of the matter on Saturday and fixing it for a hearing. Yesterday, while the court heard some of the parties affected, it quickly became clear that it wanted to distance itself from the government’s actions.

It is most unfortunate that the two top forums representing the legal fraternity had earlier endorsed and even encouraged the interim government’s plan to pursue critics despite several prominent lawyers strongly criticising the move. With the chief justice himself remarking on Monday, “If you feel that shutting down criticism of the Supreme Court benefits it, you are harming me”, and making a clear distinction between criticism of the Supreme Court’s decisions and “provoking violence and spreading disturbance”, it is hoped that they will reconsider their position. It bears recalling that just last year, the Supreme Court, under its previous chief justice, had frequently encountered strong and similar criticism yet continued to exercise restraint. It was particularly disappointing to see those who had been quite vocal during the former chief justice’s tenure now falling over themselves to show they were more loyal than the king. It is encouraging that the new chief justice has reaffirmed a great degree of tolerance for critical voices and even welcomed them for holding up a mirror to the superior judiciary. As for the interim government, it really needs to examine its actions in the context of its constitutional responsibilities.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2024

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