Tuesday September 28, 2021

Harassment of journalists: SC summons record of cases filed against journalists

September 14, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday summoned complete record of cases filed against journalists and sought assistance of the attorney general of Pakistan on Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance.

A three-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsen and comprising Justice Muneeb Akhtar and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed took up a suo motu case regarding harassment of journalists.

The court sought comprehensive reports from the chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), the director general Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the inspector general of Police Islamabad pertaining to cases filed against journalists.

The court directed Attorney General Khalid Javed to assist it on Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance and state if the said section does not contravene Article 19 of the Constitution besides directing the advocate generals of all the provinces including Islamabad Capital Territory to assist the court in the matter in hand.

The court directed the DG FIA to state in detail about launching of FIRs, how they were filed and how many cases were registered against journalists, how many have been arrested and also inform it about the outcome and results of those cases. The court directed the DG FIA to state in its report about the cases pending against journalists and how the agency exercises its powers against journalists under the Pakistan Cyber Crimes Act.

The court directed the chairman Pemra to submit a comprehensive report stating about the procedure being adopted by the authority against broadcasting organisations. The court asked the chairman Pemra to specifically mention and ensure that Section 27 is not being exercised in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution. Likewise, the court directed the IG Islamabad to submit a detailed report regarding the arrest of people involved in attacking journalists during the last one year besides highlighting the complaints so far registered with it regarding harassment of journalists.

Earlier, during the course of hearing, the DG FIA told the court that about 27 complaints have been registered against journalists with the agency of which the agency converted four complaints into FIRs while 20 cases have been disposed of at the inquiry stage.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen remarked that the freedom of press will be regulated under Article 19 of the Constitution but cannot be regulated through Cyber Crime Act. The FIA cannot decrease the jurisdiction of freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution. Justice Ijazul Ahsen asked Chairman Pemra Muhammad Saleem Baig as to whether Section 27 of Pemra is in consonant with Article 19 of the Constitution? “Article 19 of the Constitution has given you complete guidelines and whether you have made any legislation with regard to Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance,” Justice Ahsen asked the chairman Pemra.

The chairman Pemra submitted that Section 27 of the Ordinance is already before the court for interpretation. But Justice Ahsen observed that there were no Standard Operative Procedures (SOPs) available with Pemra. “You have to determine your own parameters”, he told the chairman Pemra, adding that he should streamline his rules and SOPs while sitting with law experts and streamline his action and ensure that he is complying with the law. “Where your limit starts and where it ends so assist us with respect to internationals jurisprudence,” Justice Ahsen asked the AG.

“If I start insulting people on my YouTube channel, whether it will also fall in the definition of press,” Justice Muneeb Akhtar asked the DG FIA. Justice Ijazul Ahsen observed that the in the instant matter, the court will set guidelines which will not only be applicable to the state institutions but will also be abided by the journalists community. “What is the definition of freedom of press and speech and to what extent it could go and who will regulate it,” Justice Ahsen remarked. “Where the limit of freedom of speech starts and where it ends. We have to consider it,” Justice Ahsen remarked, adding that the press should not have unlimited powers and there must be some limitations and everybody should respect his constitutional limit.

Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed observed that some four to five times, journalists were attacked in Islamabad. The judge asked the IG Islamabad what he has done so far in this regard.

The IG replied that investigation is being conducted to which the judge replied that it is his failure that he has not yet been able to arrest any person. “A person is fired in broad daylight while the accused have not yet been arrested,” Justice Qazi Amin Ahmed remarked.

The IG Islamabad replied that they had sent the CCTV footages of the accused to the Nadra, but it has not yet identified the culprits. The judge observed that the accused involved in Minar-e-Pakistan incident have been arrested, but not a single accused has been arrested by the Islamabad Police.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen observed that journalists are discharging their duties with sensitivity and on sensitive issues, therefore they must be protected as the Constitution provides protection to them. “If someone has any complaint, there is a law but one cannot be fired upon for having difference of opinion”, the judge added.

Meanwhile, Shah Khawar, counsel for the Press Association of the Supreme Court (PAS), appeared before the court and submitted that they are going to submit some bullet points for the matter in hand.

Justice Ijazul Ahsen told Shah Khawar they have already asked Amjad Bhatti, president PAS, to sit with the DG FIA and bring into his notice the grievances of the journalists community. He said that at the moment they are not indulging in individual matters but will set benchmark for looking into the aspect as a whole. “At the moment, we are formulating questions as to what could be done for protecting the fundamental rights of the journalists community at the touchstone of Article 19 of the Constitution,” Justice Ahsen remarked. Later, the court adjourned the hearing for the date-in-office (indefinite period).