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September 18, 2020

Concerns over volatile situation of civil liberties, freedom of expression, speech: Lawyers APC wants 19th Amendment repealed

Pakistan

September 18, 2020

Concerns over volatile situation of civil liberties, freedom of expression, speech: Lawyers APC wants 19th Amendment repealed

ISLAMABAD: The All Parties Conference (APC) on Thursday called for abolition of the 19th Amendment to revive parliamentary oversight of appointment of superior court judges under Article 175-A of the Constitution. The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) – the apex body of legal fraternity – convened the APC at a local hotel here.

Leaders of mainstream political parties, including Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League, Awami National Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema Islam-F Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek, and Balochistan National Movement, and members and office-bearers of bar councils and bar associations, participated in the conference.

In a declaration issued at the end of the conference, the APC declared the process of appointment of superior court judges as unsatisfactory and resolved that the present process was a big hurdle in the way of an independent and professional judiciary.

The conference resolved that unfortunately the Judicial Commission established under the 18th Amendment for appointment of superior court judges had become a consortium of judges.

The APC further resolved for reviewing the appointment of superior court judges under Article 175-A of the Constitution as well as the process of accountability besides abolishing the 19th Amendment and constituting a new forum with effective role of the Parliament as well as all stakeholders including the executive, bar councils, judiciary at a common platform and come up with bold decisions in a transparent manner.

The conference felt that an independent, transparent and impartial accountability system provided a strong foundation for good governance in the country. It said the present system of accountability had not only become useless and controversial, but it was also being used a tool for political engineering.

The conference demanded enactment of a new law for accountability in consultation with all political forces as well stakeholders which was in accordance with the basic principles of transparency.

The conference called for holding across-the-board accountability and holding all the institutions and people accountable under a unified law and under one institution. The conference declared arrest and detention of people before initiation of any case as illegal and declared that there should be a unified accountability system for the public office holders.

The APC observed that Pakistan was being derailed from constitutional, federal democratic system and said the 1973 Constitution ensured a vibrant and strong federation. The conference expressed grave concern over the increasing trend of volatile situation of civil liberties, freedom of expression, speech as well as free media and condemned the filing of treason cases lodged against journalist, restrictions on media houses and enforced disappearances of those journalists, criticizing the government and demanded legislation for protection of journalists.

The conference observed that the rights of civil liberty as well as basic fundamental rights of people were being usurped in the garb of 5th generation war. The APC condemned it and demanded recovery of all the missing persons adding that if there was any case against them, they should be proceeded in a court of law.

The conference also expressed grave concern over the increasing interference of army in the country’s political affairs and advised against interference. The APC resolved to adopt a joint strategy for the resolution and attainment of all these objectives which will be the part of next Charter of Democracy.

Earlier, in his welcome address PBC Vice Chairman Abid Saqi expressed hope that the political leadership will give its valuable insight for finding an amicable solution to these issues. Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the Constitution and the Parliament were "undermined to forcibly pass" bills crucial to the requirements laid out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for Pakistan to exit its "grey list".

“How long the Parliament can be accepted as mere "rubber-stamp," Bilawal questioned adding that if a legislation was made by force, then it would not be a Parliament. He said Shaheed Benazir Bhutto wanted to restore the 1973 Constitution that envisaged protection of civil liberties, protection of all fundamental basic rights as well as a strong federation.

Referring to the appointment of superior court judges, he said there should be an active role of the public as well. Bilawal said he had been witnessing the process of accountability since he was two years old and found his mother in jail adding that they faced corruption cases but his mother was acquitted in all cases.

Bilawal Bhutto reiterated that there would be no compromise on civil liberty. “How can we expect a state of Madina when we cannot even publish a book?” He said National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser "did not recount votes" during the legislative process, despite repeated calls from the opposition parties to do so.

He said people were told that they lived in the State of Madina, but in this state a woman was molested on the motorway. He said those responsible for people's security, instead of blaming the rapists questioned the victim, while the state ministers and prime minister came forward to defend them.

Bilawal said his party had earlier called for defending the 18th Amendment and the National Finance Commission, but people said the PPP was defending its corruption. Bilawal said he was very much happy that many parties were supporting them because they had revived the Constitution of 1973 through the 18th Amendment.

Bilawal said they will hold the APC where they will demand “hisaab” for the blood they had shed for revival of democracy, supremacy of the Parliament and protection of fundamental rights of the people of the country.

PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif said e-media in Pakistan today was being suppressed to an unprecedented level adding that media workers had sacrificed their lives and struggled to get their freedom.

He said Editor-in-Chief Jang and Geo Group Mir Shakeel-ur-Rahman was being subjected to injustice. Referring to the judiciary, he said the situation had taken a negative turn and despite pressure, some judges gave judgments based on justice.

However, he said a judge like Arshad Malik caused irreparable damage to justice. He admitted that they had also made mistakes in the past but ‘it’s the time that we should accept our mistakes.’

“If we have to strengthen Pakistan, then we have to strengthen the federation and protect rights of provinces as well,” Shahbaz said.

Mohsin Dawar of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement said Parliament should have the supreme role in the appointment of judges and the judiciary should focus on judicial reforms. Dr Abdul Malik of Balochistan National party also spoke on the civil supremacy, while former chief minister of KP Ameer Haider Khan Hoti said there would be no justice if judges were not fully independent.

Malik referred to Justice Qazi Faez Isa saying he was being victimized adding, “We should support judges not on their personalities but on their credibility.” He said the government was taking action against those who criticized in fair manner and cited Editor-in-Chief of Jang/Geo Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman as the best example in this regard.