Sunday March 03, 2024

Contempt proceedings against journalists: Reporters Without Borders calls for annulment of decision

December 30, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court has just opened a judicial inquiry for contempt proceedings against two journalists from the daily The News International as well as its owner for having published the affidavit of a former judge highlighting a suspected influence peddling case. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the annulment of this arbitrary decision which violates the fundamental principles of the rule of law in Pakistan.

In a statement issued by the RSF on Wednesday, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific office Daniel Bastard said, the RSF calls on the Chief Justice Islamabad High Court, Justice Athar Minallah to rise to the occasion by immediately lifting the charges against the members of the team of The News International. The respect for the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary are at stake, two pillars of democracy are regularly threatened, he said.

"I checked my sources," said investigative journalist Ansar Abbasi, during interview by RSF. His ethical requirements were however ignored in the decision, pronounced this Tuesday, December 28, by the Chief Justice of the High Court of Islamabad, Athar Minallah. Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court decided to open legal proceedings for “contempt of court” against Ansar Abbasi, investigator for the daily The News International, its Editor, Amir Ghauri, and Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang Media Group, which publishes the newspaper.

Ansar Abbasi simply filed an article, published on November 15, in which he revealed a statement taken under oath by a former Chief Judge of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Shamim.

The latter claims to have heard the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, pressure one of his colleagues not to grant bail to several leaders of the opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML- N) before the 2018 general elections. "The information revealed by Ansar Abbasi and The News International sheds light on issues of public interest absolutely fundamental to the rule of law in Pakistan," notes the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific office, Daniel Bastard. The RSF statement while quoting daily Dawn further says that Ansar Abbasi attested, during the hearing on Tuesday, having fully verified the veracity of his information and his sources: "Rana Shamim himself also [sent me a message] to tell me that what I had read was correct."

The paper’s editor, Amir Ghauri is also being prosecuted in the contempt proceedings. The third personality implicated in this case, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who has already spent eight months in prison, before being finally released on bail in November 2020. At the time of his arrest, RSF had demonstrated the perfectly fallacious dimension of the charge against him, the statement says.

Pakistan occupies 145th place out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published in 2021 by RSF.

Meanwhile, the Freedom Network has expressed its utter disappointment over the order of the Islamabad High Court bracketing three media persons with a former judge of Gilgit-Baltistan to frame charges against them in a contempt case Chief Justice Athar Minallah is hearing.

On 28 December 2021, the IHC chief justice ordered to frame charges against main alleged contemnor besides the three media persons who reported the affidavit which the former top judge of Gilgit-Baltistan recorded to accuse former chief justice of Pakistan of allegedly “colluding” to deny bail to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif before the 2018 general elections.

“The Islamabad High Court order to frame contempt charges against Jang Group Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Editor of The News International Aamir Ghauri and Editor Investigations Ansar Abbasi makes no sense as these media persons made no crime by reporting the affidavit which exists and confirmed by its author before the honourable chief justice of the Islamabad High Court,” Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of media watchdog Freedom Network, said Wednesday in Press Freedom Alert issued on 29 December 2021.

“The court order will damage press freedom in the country and set bad precedent for doing investigative journalism. As the court finds itself satisfied with existence of the affidavit which was owned and confirmed by its author, there is no justification whatsoever to frame charges against these media persons.”

Iqbal Khattak said Ansar Abbasi, the editor and the editor-in-chief would have been guilty of doing unethical journalism had the affidavit was fraudulent. “It is no crime to report such high-level public interest document which the investigative editor found and verified before its publication,” he said.

The Freedom Network executive director hoped the IHC chief justice would take into account devastating repercussions the charges would have for freedom of expression and prayed him to reconsider his opinion about the media persons in this case.

"Media is just the messenger in this case, not the contemnor and treating the media on a par with the principal alleged contemnor here will be akin to, proverbially, shooting the messenger, which will have adverse repercussions on the already fragile state of media freedoms in Pakistan, which is ranked among the most dangerous countries to practise journalism," he added.

“Media looks at the judiciary for its support in the face of state and non-state-patronized onslaughts from all sides in the last more than three years to defend citizens’ right to know and access to information,” the Press Freedom Alert said.