Pakistan Politics 
Pakistan Assures No Action Against Journalists Accused in Smear Campaigns Until After General Elections

The Friday Times | 31/01/2024

Courtesy: The Friday Times

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The government on Tuesday assured that no action would be taken against journalists summoned for their alleged role in smear campaigns against judges of the Supreme Court until the February 8 general elections are over.

Attorney General Mansoor Usman Awan assured the Supreme Court on Tuesday. After the assurance, the top court adjourned further hearings of the 2021 suo motu case regarding harassment of journalists by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) until the first week of March 2024. The top court, however, sought a report by investigators who had probed the attack on journalist and former Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Chairman Absar Alam.

These directions were issued by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Musarrat Hilali, which resumed hearing of the suo moto case from 2021 regarding the harassment of journalists. The court is simultaneously also hearing the matter of summons recently issued by the FIA, which is part of a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing smear campaigns against judges of the top court and other state institutions. 

During Tuesday's hearing, the attorney general and the president of the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) appeared before the court. Chief Justice Isa asked whether a petition has been filed regarding the recent notices issued to journalists by the FIA. PAS President Aqeel Afzal informed the bench that the petition could not be filed because the FIA has yet to provide them with a consolidated list of individuals who have been issued summons. 

At this, Chief Justice Isa remarked that the bench had not issued any order because there was no written submission before the bench, which necessitated action.

"The court cannot issue any order until the matter is heard in the judges' committee," remarked the chief justice, pointing to the new system whereby cases about fundamental rights under Article 184(3) will be affixed for hearing after being reviewed by a three-member committee of judges comprising the three senior-most judges of the Supreme Court. 

 of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). He remarked that journalists would object if the court took suo moto notice in such a manner.

Justice Mazhar remarked that those receiving notices could have submitted their reply. He further asked whether anyone, who was issued a notice, appear before the FIA? 

At this, the attorney general responded that the JIT had stopped its proceedings for the day. 

Senior journalist Matiullah Jan, whose enforced detention had sparked the 2021 suo moto case, informed the bench that attempts were being made to control the media in the context of the upcoming elections.

He argued that investigators should summon them after the February 8 elections. 

During Tuesday's hearing, it was suggested that there was a need to regulate those expressing opinions in the new digital media formats. Meanwhile, lawyer Haider Waheed urged the court to issue directions to the federal government to devise a social media code of conduct in collaboration with stakeholders. 

However, the chief justice questioned whether the court could issue such an order. Endorsing the chief justice's view, Justice Mazhar observed that there was no law to regulate digital media and that current laws only relate to criminal proceedings. 

PAS President Afzal again intervened and informed the bench that the notices of the investigation agency had not been withdrawn despite observations from the top court.

The attorney general argued that there is a process for withdrawing notices.

Supreme Court Bar Association President Shehzad Shaukat said they encourage criticism but cannot allow the dissemination of fabricated allegations.

During the hearing, Chief Justice Isa reiterated that they do not care about criticism because they follow the Constitution and the law. 

This article was first published in The Friday Times, Pakistan.

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