Audio leaks case: IHC summons PTA chief over Bushra, Najamul Saqib’s pleas

PTA officials said they had not submitted such a statement in court

By Asim Javed
March 05, 2024
A general view of the Islamabad High Court building. — Geo News/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has summoned the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman again on March 14 over the petitions filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf founder’s wife Bushra Bibi and former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar’s son Najamul Saqib against the audio leaks.


Justice Babar Sattar heard the petitions. The petitioners’ counsel Sardar Abdul Latif Khosa, the PTA’s counsel Irfan Qadir, Director General Intelligence Bureau Fawad Asadullah and, on the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists’ (PFUJ) behalf, Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) Secretary Asif Bashir Chaudhry appeared in court.

Qadir said the application has become infructuous as per the prayer clause, and the PTA is not a party in Bushra Bibi’s application. He said that there is legal interception on the PTA’s behalf.

Justice Sattar said the PTA had earlier submitted that there is no legalinterception, adding that if it is so, the PTA should recall its previous statement.

PTA officials said they had not submitted such a statement in court. Their counsel said that this case has become ineffective, so it should be disposed of.

Justice Sattar said the court is hearing two separate applications, and inquired about the PTA chairman. The counsel said the chairman had gone abroad to attend a conference in Barcelona and would return in three or four days.

The counsel said the PTA has not issued permission to anyone, and the chairman would examine the matter. He said that there is a procedure, and the telecom operators would apprise that whether or not the federal government allowed them to do so, adding that the Centre allows it in accordance with the law.

Justice Sattar asked if the Centre is stating that they have not given the permission to anyone to date. The PTA’s counsel said that it has to be examined as to why these provisions of law are kept in these licences.

Justice Sattar said the court also wants to understand this. The counsel said the PTA has not issued instructions to anyone, adding that he would assist the court in the matter because government officials usually do not understand the court’s queries.

Khosa said the government on the one hand admitted that it is a crime under Section 19, while on the other, they have been telecasting the leaked audio the entire day.

The court said the matter needs to be examined to determine how to prevent this in future. Khosa said that everyone’s privacy is at risk, and it cannot happen that a counsel was talking to his client and someone else was listening.

Justice Sattar asked whether there is any framework, and under which law the state has been provided the facility. The PTA’s counsel said that digital media is such a huge platform, and that social media sites are beyond our agencies’ jurisdiction.

He said that the late judge Arshad Malik’s audio was also leaked, then there was the Panama case decision. Justice Sattar asked if the state is taking the position that there is no legal authority.

He also said that it needs to be clarified whether citizens’ privacy is protected or not. The PTA’s counsel said that the policy, act and licence state something else.

The court said that the state has claimed that all such actions are being carried out privately, and that there is no state involvement in such matters. The court asked the PTA’s counsel to assist the court as to how there is legal interception.

The additional attorney general (AAG) said Bushra Bibi had filed a miscellaneous application, and such a plea comes within the purview of a suo motu notice.

The court said it is hearing the petition, not the suo motu notice, adding that the DG IB has been called to assist the court in the matter.

Khosa said the leaked audio is genuine. The DG IB said they cannot hold anyone responsible until there is an investigation, and the IB is not confirming or denying the recording. He said the IB is keeping an eye on the state’s enemies, and in this regard they can brief the court in the chamber.

Justice Sattar asked what the state is doing to protect the citizens’ privacy. “Are telecom operators allowing phone tapping? Have any rules, guidelines or something else been framed as to what technology can and can’t be used?”

The DG IB said that if the court gives him a few minutes in the chamber, he can explain the matter. The court said that it would hear the DG IB in the chamber if necessary, and expressed satisfaction over his assistance.

Justice Sattar asked the journalist organisation’s representative about the PFUJ’s opinion on the issue of audio leaks and inquired how it could be stopped.

The RIUJ secretary said that the PFUJ code of conduct is very clear, adding that according to Article 11 of the code, a journalist cannot broadcast any news or material whose sources are unclear or cannot be verified.

He said that it is also not right to expose an audio or video clip containing material based on personal or private privacy rather than public interest.

He also said the PFUJ is concerned about the violation of personal liberties through repeated private audio leaks in Pakistan, adding that in the recent past several audio and video clips have surfaced through certain vloggers, while TV channels have also been provided such audio clips by certain quarters.

He further said that every TV channel that does not have an editorial board should be set up with one, and the channels should be required to determine if broadcasting private conversations from unknown sources is necessary for public interest.

He stressed that the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority should be held responsible when someone’s private conversation is aired on channels, as it is done to empower individuals.

He said that audio clips are leaked in the name of national security but national security is put on the back burner. He added that audio clips from Pakistan’s chief executive to the Supreme Court’s judges and their families are being leaked.

He stressed that the institutions should inform who is doing all this, and the court should fix the entire issue. He said that it is expected that the court would lay down policy guidelines after a detailed hearing on the matter.

During the hearing, the written response of senior journalist and analyst Mazhar Abbas was also submitted to the court.

The DG IB said that there are also cases of audio leaks in the US, the UK and Germany, where devices are used to make this easy to do.

Khosa said that the entire internet and all the social media platforms were shut down on February 8. Justice Sattar told him not to argue over the February 8 issue because the matter was not placed before the court.

The court said the AAG had already said they are taking suo motu notice over the issue. The court directed the PTA chief to appear in court, and adjourned the hearing until March 14.