ISLAMABAD: A day after a strongly-worded statement by the army chief, the Supreme Court sought on Tuesday press statements issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) after the May 2, 2011, Abbottabad operation in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had taken up a petition filed by Sardar Mohammad Ghazi, an advocate, in June seeking an order barring the media from questioning and condemning the armed forces, intelligence agencies and other security institutions.
Raja Mohammad Irshad, representing the petitioner, argued that it was a coincidence the chief justice addressed young officers and the army chief spoke at the GHQ on the same day, but the media tried to paint the two speeches as a sign of confrontation between the armed forces and judiciary.
The chief justice asked the counsel to refrain from speaking on the subject and observed that no one should be mistaken that there was no conflict among institutions, but the points brought to the notice of the court would be taken seriously.
The bench made it clear that there should be no two opinions on the authority of the Supreme Court and that the court was unambiguous on its jurisdiction. It observed that the final decision lay with the Supreme Court only.
Advocate Raja argued that the armed forces had always respected and obeyed the apex court’s directives in letter and spirit and accepted its authority.
The court asked the counsel to submit all press releases issued by the ISPR since May 2 last year as well as terms of reference of the judicial commission, headed by Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, which had almost completed its inquiry into the Abbottabad raid.
The court also sought the copy of an article by President Asif Ali Zardari published in the Washington Post soon after the May 2 incident and the transcript of two programmes conducted by analyst Najam Sethi on May 2 and 18 last year.
The court asked the counsel to substantiate his contention that statements and articles written after the Abbottabad raid had violated Article 19 of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, Advocate Inamul Raheem, who has served the army as lieutenant colonel, filed an application in the Supreme Court seeking to become a party in the case, but with a different contention.
He said the media sometimes rightly highlighted the conduct of certain individuals who allegedly tarnished the image of the Pakistan Army.
In his petition, Sardar Ghazi contended that irreparable damage had been caused to the army and its intelligence agencies through utterances, talk shows, comments and analysis by certain anchorpersons after the US operation to kill Osama bin Laden and the militant attack on Mehran base in Karachi last year.
The federal government, through the information secretary, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), Najam Sethi, talk show host Hamid Mir of Geo Television and journalist Ijaz Haider have been made respondents in the petition.
The petitioner alleged that anchorpersons had overreacted to the two incidents with baseless criticism and lowered the authority and integrity of the military institutions in the eyes of people. He wondered whether hidden local and foreign hands were at work to destabilise the country and cause consternation, demoralisation and despondency among institutions responsible for security and defence of the country.
Sardar Ghazi sought a restraining order for the media against criticising the armed forces and intelligence agencies without verification and confirmation. He requested the court to set guidelines so that defence and security of the country might not be endangered and the armed forces and intelligence agencies be secured and guarded from mala fide and baseless allegations.
The petitioner asked whether the media was free to publish or telecast court proceedings in whatever manner it liked and whether it was not the duty of the government, Pemra and other organisations to implement the law imposing reasonable restrictions on the freedom of the media and press. The court directed the petitioner to submit records by Nov 22.