The Supreme Court (SC) ordered on Tuesday the government to register an FIR in the Arshad Sharif murder case by tonight. It also declared the medical report of the slain journalist "unsatisfactory".
The apex court's order came during a five-member bench hearing headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial. Apart from the CJP, the bench included justices Ijaz Ul Ahsan, Jamal Khan Mandokhail, Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Muhammad Ali Mazhar.
Additional Attorney-general (AAG) Aamir Rehman, interior secretary and other senior officials appeared before the court.
During the hearing, the CJP questioned why the report of a fact-finding committee formed after the journalist's murder is yet to be submitted.
The CJP said that the interior ministry should have submitted the report last Friday, but did not do so. "Should the interior minister be summoned? Where is the interior minister?" the CJP asked.
At this, the AAG told the court that he will present the report of the fact-finding committee by tomorrow (Wednesday).
The CJP expressed his displeasure on the assurance of the AAG and said that wasting time in investigation matters is not the job of the SC, but the government.
"Arshad Sharif was a renowned journalist, why was he killed and why abroad? Pakistan has vast resources to conduct affairs abroad and access to foreign countries," the CJP remarked.
He again questioned the delay in the fact-finding committee report, telling the AAG that it had been some time now since the committee had returned to Pakistan from Kenya. "Why has the final report of the government commission not yet been received by the SC? What is happening?" he asked.
The top judge said that the medical report that was submitted is also unsatisfactory despite being prepared by senior doctors. "Every human life has to be taken seriously. Mistreatment of journalists cannot be tolerated in any way, journalists are the voice of truth in Pakistan. Yes, if journalists lie, the government has the power to take action," the CJP said.
On being asked by the court, the AAG said that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah was in Faisalabad when the report was received. He said it will be handed over to the apex court after the interior minister reviews it as it may contain some "sensitive" information.
At this, the CJP inquired if interior minister has to make changes to the report.
The CJP further questioned why a criminal case was not registered for the murder of Arshad Sharif in Pakistan.
At this, the interior secretary said a decision to file a case would be made after reviewing the fact-finding committee's report.
Justice Naqvi asked if this is the legal way to file a case.
Justice Ahsan also inquired how an investigation can be conducted without registering a case.
At this, the CJP said that the five-member bench has been formed due to the seriousness of the situation.
He ordered to submit the report of the fact-finding committee today so that it can be heard tomorrow, saying that they had been waiting for the report for 43 days and the matter should be taken seriously.
Later, the court ordered the FIR of Arshad Sharif's murder to be filed by tonight and adjourned the hearing till December 7.
After the hearing, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif welcomed the apex court's suo motu notice of the murder.
"I had already written a letter to Honorable Chief Justice of Pakistan for setting up a Judicial Commission to probe the murder. The government will extend full cooperation to the Court," tweeted the premier.
A couple of hours before the SC hearing PM Shehbaz spoke at an event in Islamabad related to journalists’ safety in the country.
The premier said his government believes that no journalists should be called out or attacked for exercising their freedom of expression as guaranteed under the constitution of Pakistan.
He termed the killing of prominent journalist Arshad Sharif an “extremely sad incident” and said that he soon after spoke to the government of Kenya and later wrote a letter to the CJP to form a judicial commission.
Earlier today, the CJP had taken suo motu notice of the "brutal" murder of the journalist in Kenya.
The SC had said in a statement that the CJP has issued notices to the interior secretary, foreign secretary, information secretary, director generals of Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), Intelligence Bureau, and president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.
Last week, former prime minister and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan wrote a letter to the CJP demanding a judicial inquiry into Sharif's killing. The journalist was shot dead in Kenya in October.
PM Shehbaz Sharif, too, had written to the CJP for the formation of a judicial commission to investigate Sharif's killing and a demand was also made by the slain journalist's mother.
“The journalist community in the country and the public at large are deeply distressed and concerned about the death of the senior journalist and are seeking the court's scrutiny of the matter,” said the apex court in a statement announcing the suo motu action.
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry welcomed the suo motu notice, saying the public expects judges to stand up for the supremacy of the Constitution and protect human rights despite pressures.
Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, too, welcomed the development, calling the SC notice "commendable".
He commented that several “hidden faces” would be exposed during the case.
"The nation is also looking towards the SC over the attack on Imran Khan and the Azam Swati case," he said.
Journalist Arshad Sharif was killed on the night of October 23 in Kenya by Kenyan General Service Unit (GSU) officers as he was being driven to Nairobi.
The Kenyan police had initially claimed that the journalist was shot in a case of mistaken identity.
The government had formed a two-member team, including FIA and IB officials, to probe the murder. The team had travelled to Kenya and UAE.
Last month, FIA had told a Senate committee that it is preparing a report following the return of the investigation team from Kenya.
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