• IHC judge summons govt officials, intelligence personnel; tells police to record intel agency official’s statement in missing poet’s case
• Justice Kayani seeks details of action taken against intelligence officials in such cases

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court on Friday ordered the live telecast of all cases relating to enforced disappearances, as its senior puisne judge summoned the officials of intelligence agencies and top government officials during a hearing of a petition seeking the recovery of missing poet Ahmed Farhad, who was allegedly picked up by a spy agency.

In addition to notices to the defence secretary, the sector commanders of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and director of the Intelligence Bureau, the court also summoned Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar, who had asked the judges to exercise restraint in a press conference earlier this week.

On May 20, the federal minister had suggested judges speak through their orders rather than resorting to “unwarranted” remarks, after the same judge threatened to summon the prime minister, cabinet members and intelligence officials.

During Friday’s hearing, the judge said the ISI sector commander’s rank was equivalent to the rank of a Station House Officer (SHO) and he should attend the proceedings.

In a rare development, the judge authored the order of the day in Urdu, in which he detailed the reasons for summoning top government functionaries and senior officials of the intelligence agencies.

The order states: “The AGP was asked [whether] the law enforcement institutions, including the ISI and the MI, were performing their duties under any law, to which the AGP said that the ISI is directly accountable to the prime minister of Pakistan while the MI is associated with the defence secretary and the armed forces of Pakistan.”

“Looking at the explanation of this matter, the court considers it necessary that all the institutions should work within their constitutional limits, but in the present situation, we cannot do a comparative assessment of the administrative performance of the ISI with the police, FIA [Federal Investigation Agency] and CTD [Counter-Terrorism Department] until the court is briefed about official practices in institutions such as the ISI and MI, including the way to conduct investigation and inquiry.”

‘Role of agencies’

The order said the defence secretary was thus summoned in his personal capacity so he could submit a written explanation to the court on the above matters. “This would allow the court to clarify the role of the agencies in the jurisdiction of police investigation in the future and lead them to be accountable in the jurisdiction of the court,” the order said.

It further said: “During the discussion, the court has come to the conclusion that the issue of missing persons is the most important issue of public interest at the moment,” adding that for this, no legislation was passed by parliament to “make the role of law enforcement agencies…responsible”.

The court observed that the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances headed by former National Accountability Bureau chief Justice Javed Iqbal was of no use. While the blanket ban on court reporting imposed by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) was still in the field, Justice Kayani allowed the reporting of the case as the order said “as this case is of an important nature which concerns the people of Pakistan, this court allows the proceedings of the case to be reported”.

Furthermore, the judge ordered live streaming of all missing persons cases to facilitate public awareness and understanding of important legal issues. It further directed the court registrar to produce an administrative note on the matter. The judge observed that the problem of missing persons was not a singular problem, nor would it end after the recovery of the present hostage and require a permanent solution.

He sought a report from Inspector General Ali Nasir Rizvi about the cases registered against unknown persons in all police stations in the last year in which investigating officers recorded the statements of the abductors or the statements of the next of kin regarding the allegations levelled against any agency. He also questioned whether a statement was recorded by the relevant agency’s sector commander in this regard during the investigation.

Justice Kayani said the cases of enforced disappearances were tarnishing the image of intelligence agencies and there is a need to dispel the “negative public perception”. He also summoned the law minister and the law secretary for the court’s assistance. In order to get some understanding of the code of conduct of the ISI, MI, and IB, Justice Kayani summoned them and also sought the details of the action taken against the officials of the intelligence agencies punished for illegally detaining, blackmailing and surveilling citizens. The court also sought the procedure of self-accountability within the intelligence agencies.

During the hearing, Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan informed the court that a few call detail records (CDRs) were available that were being used to trace the whereabouts of the missing poet. The judge then remarked that at this point, the poet’s recovery was inconsequential compared to “a few things” that he said he would settle.

Senior Superintendent of Police Malik Jamil Zafar informed the court that the investigation was underway with the assistance of the IB. The judge directed SSP Zafar to record the ISI sector commander’s statement. Further hearing in this matter has been adjourned till May 29.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

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