Monday June 17, 2024

CJP directs govt to stop action against journalists criticising SC

Abusive language is a different matter, but FIA should not take action on criticism, says CJP Qazi Faez Isa

By Maryam Nawaz
January 29, 2024
Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa (top centre) is hearing the case pertaining to harassment of journalists in Pakistan. —Screengrab/ Supreme Court of Pakistan Proceedings/ YouTube
Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa (top centre) is hearing the case pertaining to harassment of journalists in Pakistan. —Screengrab/ Supreme Court of Pakistan Proceedings/ YouTube

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa Monday stopped the government from taking legal action against journalists for criticising the Supreme Court.

During the hearing of a suo motu case pertaining to the harassment of journalists, he said the top court could not stop any journalist or even the general public from pointing out faults or shortcomings in court proceedings.

CJP Isa ordered the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to immediately withdraw the notices issued to journalists for criticising judges on social media.

Directing the FIA director general to hold a meeting with the journalists, the apex court adjourned the hearing regarding the harassment of journalists till Tuesday (tomorrow).

The court also directed the federal government to submit a report about the torture of journalists in a fortnight. On the journalist associations’ request to suspend the FIA notices, CJP Isa said SC would decide about it when the case resumes on January 30.

A three-member bench headed by CJP Isa and comprising Justice Muhammed Ali Mazhar and Justice Mussarat Hilali conducted the hearing of the case.

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan and Press Association of Supreme Court’s officials appeared before the court. The AGP apprised the court about four petitions regarding the case with journalists Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui and Asad Toor among the plaintiffs.

"Abusive language is a different matter, but the FIA should not take action on criticism. I am strongly against stopping criticism, as freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution," the chief justice remarked.

CJP Isa said he doesn't mind if someone derides him, but ridiculing the judiciary will result in the country's loss.

On January 27, CJP Isa took a suo motu notice against the FIA’s list of 47 journalists and YouTubers for allegedly running a smear campaign on social media against Supreme Court judges and the judiciary.

According to the FIA, at least 115 inquiries had been registered and 65 notices had been served against the individuals involved in propagating derogatory and false information against the CJP and state institutions on social media. It was further stated that the date of hearing regarding these notices was January 31, 2024.

On January 17, the caretaker government formed a five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to ascertain the facts behind a malicious social media campaign against SC judges after the apex court gave a verdict on the election symbol of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The JIT constituted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 consists of officials from police, FIA and intelligence agencies.

The country's press and media associations, in a joint statement, had made it clear that if the FIA continued resorting to such steps, then they would be forced to evolve their next course of strategy collectively with other journalist organisations.

Meanwhile, when the joint statement was highlighted by the media, CJP Isa summoned both the presidents of the associations to his chamber, assuring them about taking up an old case on January 29 regarding harassment of journalists and asking them to present their grievances during its hearing.

The SC, on Saturday, issued notices to all the parties for January 29 in the case.

The chief justice said if a journalist thought that they were doing a favour to the top court through criticism then they were inflicting damage upon the state institution. You must rebuke the apex court but there was some limitation in the Constitution too, he maintained.

Justice Mussarat Hilali said social media inflicted immense damage upon the institutions. If you considered Article 19, then you should also consider Article 14. Article 19 allows freedom of speech, while Article 14 says the dignity of a man shall be inviolable.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar said what was written on the thumbnail was not as such in the video which was strange. He said fair criticism was not an issue but the language used was wrong.

The chief justice said if a journalist was arrested just for criticism then it was improper.

Journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui said the federal government should be asked on whose directive the joint investigation team was constituted.

On August 20, 2021, a two-member bench of the apex court comprising Justice Isa and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail while hearing a case had taken notice of harassment of journalists. The FIA, on August 6, 2021, had arrested journalists Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat in Lahore for their disrespectful attitude against the Pakistan Army, the judiciary and women.

Journalist Abdul Qayyum Siddiqui had brought to the notice of the court an application regarding harassment of journalists on which the court had directed to file a petition in this regard.

The CJP said Mr Siddiqui you had said you no longer wanted to pursue the case. Siddiqui replied when the matter was put before Justice Ijazul Ahsan’s bench then he did not want to run the case.

The chief justice remarked that the SC shelved the case since 2021 instead of disposing it of. Siddiqui said he also wanted to go to the former chief justice Gulzar Ahmed, but his request was denied. CJ Isa said living nations in the world learnt through their mistakes of the past.

Justice Mazhar said the FIA had submitted a report that no action was being taken against any journalist.

The chief justice also asked Toor if he could recognise those who subjected him to torture in Islamabad. Toor said the ones who tortured him were not arrested, but he could still recognise them if brought before him.

CJP Isa directed the AGP to submit a detailed report about the Toor torture case. Toor maintained he did not want to pursue the suo moto case, but the court said it would look into the matter anyway.

The SC also sought details of the cases against journalists. Information should be obtained from the top officers like FIA DG and IG police, CJP Isa said.

Meanwhile, journalist Matiullah Jan pleaded with the court to fix the suo moto case regarding the murder of journalist Arshad Sharif for hearing too. The chief justice said that case might be attached to the same case in the next hearing.