ISLAMABAD: The Federal Judicial Complex remained a no-go area for journalists during Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s court proceedings on Wednesday. Not a single journalist was let in. Besides, lawyers and litigants were also stopped at the main gate of the complex. Tension started mounting at the entrance to a point where some lawyers climbed over the closed main gate and into the court premises.
Dar, his counsel, a group of supporting lawyers, and PML-N CADD State Minister Dr Tariq Fazal Chaudhry were given entry from a back door for the hearing, while the main entrance was shut to keep a horde of people out.
It has been plain to see that since the beginning of the reference hearings in relation to the Panamagate scandal, the media has been kept away deliberately. This is the first time that such stringent measures were taken to keep journalists out.
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Owing to the high profiles of the people involved, instead of the suspects being treated like they normally are, journalists are the ones that have been shut out.
During the initial cases reporters were stopped at the courtroom’s gates and were informed that the court’s reader would give a statement to the journalists pertaining to the hearing. However, when reporters insisted that they wanted to cover proceedings themselves, as the statement released from the court’s reader would only consist of a few lines, they were given absurd but specific instructions from the acting registrar of the accountability courts.
“Do not make eye contact with the judge as it will amount to contempt of court. Also keep your gaze lowered when you are allowed to enter the court and while you take notes,” the acting registrar had instructed.
Journalists had complied and were allowed to enter the courts only after they had rid themselves of extra possessions, such as phones and bags. Here it is important to note that unlike the Supreme Court, where phones are kept against tokens, there are no facilities in the complex. More often than not phones and other things have to be handed over to whoever will keep them, provided somebody trustworthy is present at the premises.
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Even deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s hearing on September 26 was marred by mismanagement. A photographer in the courtroom used a DSLR camera to photograph the judge in the presence of Nawaz. No action was taken against him, as he was Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s official photographer.
On the other hand, security officials beat up and eventually threw out a local TV channel reporter from the court. While some reporters, lawyers and even National Accountability Bureau prosecutors were detained at the gate.
However, measures taken on Wednesday have been the strictest so far, where no journalist was even let in through the front gates. Usual procedure includes the barring of cameras inside the courtrooms. This decision could either be a result of the mismanagement or a last-minute security measure.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan (SCBAP) has taken notice of the way journalists are being treated. A statement issued from the association read "[It] is defying their eternal right to cover and know about the much awaited progress of this publicly important case," the statement read.
The SCBAP has requested the registrar of the accountability court to intervene, do the needful and arrange adequate security through Rangers to facilitate media and advocates to cover the proceedings.
When everything was over on Wednesday, journalists met the registrar and both parties agreed that cards or passes would be issued to reporters, as long as they do not bring in their mobile phones. Additionally groups of lawyers would not accompany the accused in the courtroom.
Although some journalists raised questions about the transparency of the day’s proceedings they did not pursue this further, as even making eye contact with the judge could land you in contempt then questioning the process would surely land you in hot water.