Wednesday February 08, 2023

Nawaz’s address at Asma Jahangir moot: Speech by absconder is contempt: says Fawad

Federal Minister for Information and Technology Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said that the conclusion of the Asma Jahangir conference with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's speech is "a contempt of judges and judiciary".

November 22, 2021

ISLAMABAD/ LAHORE: Federal Minister for Information and Technology Fawad Chaudhry on Sunday said that the conclusion of the Asma Jahangir conference with PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif's speech is "a contempt of judges and judiciary".

"Conference addressed by CJP and senior judges is concluding with speech by an absconder. It’s nothing but a contempt of judges and the judiciary," Chaudhry tweeted. The federal minister later said that he had turned down the invitation to the event, held in Lahore in memory of late human rights activist and trailblazing lawyer Asma Jahangir.

"I had been invited to the Asma Jahangir Conference today [Sunday]. I was told that the conference will conclude with the speech of an absconder," said the minister. Fawad went on to say that inviting Nawaz Sharif to make a speech at the Asma Jahangir Conference is "tantamount to mocking the country and the constitution", therefore, he has excused himself from attending the conference.

He further said that he has advised the Supreme Court Bar Association to "remain neutral". "Advised SCBA that they should remain neutral, only then lawyers can contribute!" he wrote.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Ahsan Bhoon, while speaking in Geo News programme ‘Naya Pakistan’, said that there were 20-25 sessions in the conference and every session had a different topic.

He said that neither the judges knew who was going to address the conference and "nor was there a need" to tell them. "Fawad Chaudhry was invited as a special guest on a session on Afghan issues but he didn't show up," said Bhoon.

"We respect the government’s point of view. We also have our own point of view," he added. In a taunt at the conference’s theme — ‘Challenges to human dignity’, Energy Minister Hammad Azhar tweeted: "Think positive; Perhaps the idea was to focus on human rights of absconders."

Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Mirza Shahzad Akbar, meanwhile, said: "Having an absconder and convict speak at a conference where the CJP and senior judges of superior judiciary and members of Bar have spoken creates serious doubts on impartiality of organisers but also makes it clear that honourable judges should remain clear of such politicised gatherings."Earlier, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said those who dare to speak are quietened. Those who question, disappear. Any voice that is raised for truth, is silenced. Those who dare question are put off-air or turned out of job. Black laws were made solely to silence the voice of truth. And we have seen all this ourselves.

The PML-N supremo said this in his address to the gathering at 3rd Asma Jahangir Conference’s closing session. He thanked Munizae Jahangir, the Asma Jahangir Conference team, the Supreme Court Bar Association and Pakistan Bar Council for inviting him to speak on the occasion.

“Vote does not get respect here and RTS is closed here; vote is stolen here. Here, dharnas are organised against elected governments. Governments are made and erased here. The state of parliament is such that dozens of laws are bulldozed in no time. We have seen this only two days back.

“These are reasons for our downfall and will be the reason of our downfall. And then we are surprised why the world slams sanctions on us? Why we are made to stand in the dock, why the world questions our character. “Its not just politician and media. Today, if a judge speaks the truth, it costs him his job.”

This is where the connection severed and the audience was left waiting to hear the complete speech. He spoke for a while and then he was off screen. He was scheduled to speak to the audience in the closing session of the two-day conference.

Munizae Jahangir said they are trying to find a way to connect to the speech but the wires had been cut at the marquee, adding that rats do such things.” After the video call was cut off, the organisers arranged for a telephonic address, during which Nawaz Sharif condemned the present government for censoring freedom of speech and expression and said that everyone must struggle for democracy together and come to a consensus on political rights and to chalk out a way forward to implement it.

A press release issued by the Asma Jahangir conference organisers quoted Nawaz Sharif talking on phone, “In the past the judiciary not only legitimised martial law, and gave a dictator the right to make changes to the Constitution of Pakistan. Are those who follow the Constitution are traitors? There needs to be a consensus on a national narrative. Following the Constitution is the only solution. For this purpose, journlaists, civil society activists must play their role for the sake of democracy and the rule of law. They must unify on one platform, a national jirgah, which will give shape to a national movement, so that we can move forward as it is already too late.”

Meanwhile, another session ‘The Right to dissent-Accountability or Victimisation’ was held during ‘Asma Jahangir Conference – Challenges to Human Dignity’.

Rashed Rahman, veteran editor and journalist, moderated the session while the speakers included former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, PTI’s Senator Syed Ali Zafar, PPP’s leader and former federal information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, Salahuddin Ahmed, President of Sindh High Court Bar Association, and Haider Rasul Mirza, NAB Expert and Advocate Supreme Court.

Majority of the speakers were of the view that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has become a tool of manipulating opponents because of various lacunas in the accountability laws.

Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the question of accountability or victimisation was something that we discuss a lot but the reality of the situation remained unclear because we deliberately clouded the facts, the laws were misused, the judiciary made comments, which were not reflected in their decisions and a few who stood up suffered and the whole country suffered.

“I stood in accountability courts for 12 years and spent three years in NAB jail. I don’t regret whatever I said or did but two basic questions remain. What is the purpose of accountability and what the accountability has delivered to the country,” he said, adding that the accountability laws didn’t apply on those who created them and the people who apply these laws they were also exempted from these laws.

“This was the reality of NAB today. NAB is not applied on judiciary, military, business community and bureaucracy. It only applies on the politicians who are declared corrupt in the media and tried in media,” the PMLN politician maintained.

Abbasi said that this was the 21’st year of the NAB and they had only convicted one politician of prominence and that was Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The NAB chairman should tell the nation that how much money was recovered from the politicians. He asked the legal community present at the occasion that if they can quote the cases of Nawaz Sharif as precedent anywhere in the world.

Khaqan termed NAB a "tool" with which "kleptocrats change loyalties and save themselves". He asked that where were the Kleptocrats and those who made money. These people sat in every government formed in Pakistan by just changing loyalties and save themselves.

“When you have a law, which defies every basic principle of justice, which says I declare you guilty, now prove your innocence,” he said, adding that as per financial rules a person was supposed to keep seven year record of his/ her financial transaction but NAB demanded record of last 35 years. “I am available for accountability, if you wanted to do accountability but NAB is not for accountability but is used for political engineering, manipulating politics and punishing people without convicting them,” he stated.

“If you want to hold accountability of politicians, it was very simple, the whole world does it and for this you didn’t need any special laws, he said and added that just apply tax laws as everyone who pay taxes was answerable to give details of assets and lifestyle. “If people are earning then they should be paying taxes. If a member of parliament walks out and sits in a three crore [Rs30 million] luxury vehicle and goes to his 50 crore house [Rs500 million] where the monthly electricity bills are Rs200,000/month and he pay no taxes what that will tell you?” he said and maintained that that’s a corrupt politician and you should go after him.

“Let’s start with the President of Pakistan, Prime Minister of Pakistan and Leader of the Opposition and ask them about justifying their lifestyle against the tax they has paid,” Abbasi suggested. He further suggested that if you want to apply Article 62/63 on someone then use tax laws because anybody who was not paying taxes was committing a crime against the country as most of us thought paying taxes was optional and this was the reality of Pakistan.

“I moved an amendment in the appointment of Judges Law that anyone want to become a judge should present his last ten years tax returns before the people of Pakistan. If he had not paid taxes it means two things that either he don’t have a practice so he was not technically qualified to become a judge or they have not paid taxes on their income and hid it,” he said, adding that such a person was not qualified to judge anyone for corruption. Let’s be fair about these things, he maintained.

“NAB is about victimisation and people of Pakistan are paying the price. In 2000 when NAB came into being, we have a per capita income of US $576 and today it is US $1,190, Bangladesh was at US $358 and now they are at US $2,097 and India was at US $443 and now it is at US $1,900 and a big part of this loss is NAB,” he claimed.

Last year Pakistan had an opportunity to take a simple decision, which could have saved at least $10 billion in cash during the next three years and the decision was not taken because no bureaucrat worked any more. This was because a grade-17 investigator of NAB put two papers in front of a secretary who had served 35 years with integrity. One paper was his arrest warrant and the other was to become an approver against the minister. “Is this the accountability you want?” he questioned and claimed that NAB will never move against a person in power. NAB can only be amended by consensus but we didn’t opt for this and as a result the country suffered.

The PML-N stalwart said that if you want accountability of politicians then install cameras in investigation rooms and court rooms and show the people what they have done. He concluded that the NAB was a tool to turn people into turncoats.

In the end, Abbasi thanked the Asma Jehangir foundation for keeping her voice alive as it was a much needed voice, especially today.

PTI’s Senator Syed Ali Zafar while addressing the session said that there was a perception that NAB was being used to victimise opponents and this perception has to be finished. He said the present government inherited NAB with all the lacunas left in it by Kleptocracy. He said Quaid-i-Azam also said that corruption will be the biggest challenge.

During the last three years the PTI government has tried to remove these lacunas and made NAB independent, he said adding today people were fearful of NAB before committing any corruption.

The PTI legislator admitted that still there were some lacunas and NAB was harassing bureaucracy as well as involved in private disputes. He said NAB should have two different wings i. e. investigation and prosecution so that the cases were made more accurately and timely decisions can be get. This will remove the perception that NAB was being used for political engineering or victimisation.

PPP’s central leader Qamar Zaman Kaira said that the actual problem of the country was that institutions were not working as per the Constitution. He said the government was using NAB to victimise opponents especially politicians. He said all the lacunas in NAB law can be filled up with consensus but the government was not ready to listen up the opposition.

Kaira said that today in the modern day public opinion matters a lot. He said no society can be perfect without good morals. He said people didn’t have fear of Allah but they were afraid of public opinion. “If a judge knows that people will question his judgments then he will give judgments based on justice. Similarly if a politician knows that people will question his performance, he will perform,” he said and concluded that Asma Jehangir Foundation and other similar organisations were building public opinion, which was the key to a healthy, progressive and vibrant society.

Salahuddin Ahmed President of Sindh High Court Bar Association and Haider Rasul Mirza, NAB Expert and Advocate Supreme Court also spoke on the occasion and condemned the role of NAB in political engineering.

Both speakers were of the view that NAB laws should not be applicable in back date. They also said that unlimited powers of the NAB chairman should be cut down. They said amendments to NAB laws should be introduced to regulate it in a proper manner so that no one could use it for political engineering.