Islamabad High Court Justice Babar Sattar has issued contempt notices to the director generals (DG) of the Federal Investigation Agency and Intelligence Bureau, and members and chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority for filing “collusive applications” seeking his recusal from a case pertaining to audio leaks.

The development came as the court heard a case in connection with the petitions filed last year by ex-premier Imran Khan’s spouse Bushra Bibi and Najam Saqib, son of former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar, against alleged audio leaks.

Last week, Pemra had requested Justice Sattar to recuse himself from hearing the case, contending that another bench that had already dealt with an identical matter may proceed on the petitions in hand. Similar petitions had also been filed by the FIA, the PTA and the IB.

In the hearing on April 29, Justice Sattar had imposed fines worth Rs500,000 each on the FIA, PTA and Pemra while dismissing their pleas seeking his recusal. He had also hinted at initiating contempt proceedings against the bodies.

A day ago, he dismissed a plea filed by the IB in which it sought to withdraw its petition seeking the judge’s recusal.

The detailed court verdict of the April 29 hearing, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, was issued today and said: “Let a notice also be issued to FIA DG and IB DG to satisfy the court as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for filing collusive applications to embarrass the proceedings of the court and to interfere with and abuse the process of the court and divert the course of justice within the meaning of Article 204 of the Constitution.

“Let notices also be issued to PTA chairman and members who have authorised filing of recusal application on behalf of PTA to satisfy the court as to why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for filing collusive applications to embarrass the proceedings of the court and to interfere with and abuse the process of the court and divert the course of justice within the meaning of Article 204 of the Constitution.”

The order said there was a “growing abhorrent practice” of using recusal requests accompanied by efforts to “scandalise the court and intimidate the judge into disqualifying himself/herself from hearing a matter, in which a party to the proceedings suspects that the outcome might not be to its liking”.

It added that in such a situation, the recusal request was “used as a device to delay adjudication of the matter and force reconstitution of the bench hearing the matter”, along with being “used to abuse, interfere with and obstruct the process of the court”.

The order further continued: “This court finds that the applications suffer from mala fide in law and are part of an intimidatory design to seek the recusal of the presiding judge from hearing the instant matter without any legitimate cause.

“The court is also of the view that the applications filed by FIA, IB, PTA and Pemra are part of a collusive scheme to embarrass the proceedings of this court and to bring pressure to bear upon the presiding judge to disqualify himself from hearing the instant matters. A perusal of the orders passed in the instant matters and the arguments made on behalf of the federal government as well as the agencies of the federal government, manifest dogged resistance to engaging with the subject-matter and addressing the questions of the court in a candid and truthful manner.”

It added that the IHC had “continued to afford opportunities” to the respondents to address the issues of illegal surveillance of citizens, phone tapping, unlawful recording of phone calls and unlawful release of recorded conversations violating the privacy of citizens “with some seriousness”.

However, it said that the facts brought before the court reflected “incompetence on part of the federal government and its agencies and instrumentalities and a lack of desire to protect the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution”.

Justice Sattar that the basis given for seeking his recusal — his role in the letter by six IHC judges alleging judicial interference by the intelligence apparatus — was “misconceived”.

He explained that the letter’s content “provides no basis” to any of the respondents to seek his recusal from hearing a case involving the federal government or any entity falling within its control, including investigation and intelligence agencies.

Thus, Justice Sattar said the recusal applications were “mala fide and frivolous, and, prima facie, part of a collusive scheme to intimidate the presiding judge into disqualifying himself from hearing the instant matters” and thus stood dismissed.

He also ordered the FIA and IB to file reports explaining the legal framework within which they exercised authority and identifying the relevant officials who were authorised to make representations on their behalf along with an affidavit filed by their DGs stating “who in fact authorised the filing of the instant applications” since the additional attorney general and institution representatives had failed to satisfy the court that the pleas were duly authorised.

The judge set the next hearing for May 29.

Audio leaks case

In May last year, Najam had filed a petition against an inquiry of a parliamentary committee on his alleged audio in which he purportedly sought a bribe.

Justice Sattar had asked the intelligence agencies and PTA to trace the source of the audio leak while Pemra was told not to broadcast the unauthorised and leaked conversation of citizens.

In September, Bushra Bibi had challenged an FIA inquiry based on her alleged conversation with Zulfi Bukhari, a former aide to then-PM Imran, for selling Toshakhana gifts. Subsequently, the IHC had clubbed Bushra Bibi’s and Saqib’s petitions.

Responding to the IHC, the defence ministry had denied any involvement in the recording and leaking of telephone conversations between government officials and other prominent personalities.

The Prime Minister’s Office had also submitted its report on the case, saying that it “does not interfere” with the domain of intelligence agencies, “keeps an arm’s length relationship” and expects them “to work under the Constitution and law of the land in the public interest”.

In a subsequent hearing, the PTA had informed the IHC that it did not have the capacity or capability to identify the person who leaked audio recordings on social media.

In December, Bushra Bibi had filed a separate petition against a leaked audio conversation between her and her lawyer Latif Khosa, who had confirmed the authenticity of the audio. The IHC then sought reports from the Inter-Services Intelligence director general, FIA, Pemra and others on the matter while ordering the PTA to conduct an inquiry.

In the next hearing, Attorney General for Pakistan Mansoor Usman Awan had informed the IHC that the government had not permitted any intelligence agency to tap audio conversations.

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