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November 21, 2018

Detailed order on TLP sit-in: Can a violent party be registered, asks SC

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November 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked if a party that had brought the country to a standstill, causing massive destruction to public and private property could be registered as a political party or be allowed to continue. The court issued a detailed order on the suo motu case of a sit-in staged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) at the Faizabad Interchange last year.

Led by its chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP had paralyzed the twin cities of Rawalpindi-Islamabad for over two weeks. On November 16, a two-member bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Qazi Faiz Isa while hearing the case, had expressed dissatisfaction with the reports furnished by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and an intelligence agency and directed all the departments to submit fresh reports in this regard. Justice Qazi Faiz Isa asked whether the country will be run under the Constitution or through the street power. He said peaceful protest was the right of every citizen but violence will not be allowed.

On Tuesday, the court in a five-page detailed order stated that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) submitted a report on the record of TLP's registration as a political party. “The report is signed by the secretary, who we are told, has taken a one-day holiday for an undisclosed personal reason on the very day this case was fixed, which creates the impression that this hearing is being avoided,” it added.

The report states that those who had resorted to the dharna at the Islamabad Faizabad Interchange were registered as a political party. “We would want to hear the ECP and the AGP on the question whether a party that brought the country to a standstill, caused massive economic loss, loss of life, injured law enforcement personnel and caused destruction of public and private property can be registered as a political party or be allowed to continue as such,” says the order.

The court noted that the report presented by the ECP had revealed that the TLP was registered by “a person who held a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) which showed his residence to be in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)”.

The order upheld that the ECP director general (law) can’t answer whether the said person possesses a Pakistani passport or is a dual national or a foreign national, “and instead states that a political party can also be registered by those having NICOPs, but without referring to any provision of law”.

Further, it stated that the TLP did not submit “particulars of expenses incurred by it which it was required to submit”. The ECP DG stated that the referred to legal provisions were “cosmetic in nature,” it added. “We are amazed that a senior employee of the ECP, that is the director general (law), ECP, is himself undermining the Elections Act and the Elections Rules,” the court observed.

Stating that the ECP DG’s statement causes “grave concern”, the order said, “Needless to state, the creditability of the ECP is tarnished and undermined when its own senior officer states that its law is cosmetic.”

The court directed the Election Commission of Pakistan to submit in writing whether it subscribes to the views of Muhammad Arshad, its director general, (law) and if not then what action it proposes to take against the political party, besides directing the Secretary ECP to ensure his attendance on the next date of hearing.

Furthermore, the detailed order directed the attorney general to appear before the court fully prepared to attend to the matters noted herein as well those in earlier orders. The court expressed the need to determine the parameters of protests and how these have to be handled by the state.

The court will also examine whether there are parallels to protests staged by religio-political groups in past protests and how those were handled, including the May 12, 2007 demonstrations in Karachi and the 126-day sit-in jointly staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) in 2014 at D-Chowk, Islamabad.

Similarly, the court expressed dissatisfaction with the account submitted by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) regarding the blocking of certain TV channels' transmissions in parts of the country.

The order noted that the Pemra chairman had verbally informed the bench that they had imposed a fine of Rs50,000 on a cable operator who had interrupted the channels' broadcasts but that no evidence was provided to confirm the same.

The court held that Pemra was represented in the court by seven officials, "but not one of them has the proof of the purported fine/penalty that has been allegedly imposed”. The court recalled in its order that the "broadcast of any channel cannot be curtailed at the whim of any cable operator".

The detailed order observed that Pemra's inability to trace out the culprits [behind the blocking of channels is undermining the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and press and the laws governing Pemra.

The court declared the report submitted by Pemra as "non-serious and ordered the authority to submit a fresh report signed by its chairman. The court will resume the hearing on November 22.

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