The Supreme Court on Friday summoned the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) director general over his department allegedly harassing media personnel.
"The FIA appears to have overstepped its legal mandate and … undermined the peoples’ confidence in the judiciary, which is the guarantor of fundamental rights,” read a five-page order authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa over an application submitted by the Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS).
“By such tactics, the respect, regard and confidence of the people in the judiciary may be undermined and [it] may also be disrespected and portrayed as standing with FIA,” it added.
Earlier this month, the FIA had arrested two senior journalists in Lahore for their "disrespectful attitude" against the Pakistan Army, the judiciary and women.
In a statement, it added that the two suspects had been released on bail while the investigation against them would continue.
The SC noted that the FIA DG, whose permission was necessary for issuance of the statement, should disclose who authorised it mentioning the word “judiciary” and submit to the court a written explanation about why he did not retract it later.
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"The FIA DG is also directed to be present in-person in court along with the entire original record of the cases against journalists in respect of whom the press release was issued and is further directed to submit a complete list of cases filed against journalists,” the order read.
“[The] list should specify the actual content -- that is the transcript of the text -- which the FIA deemed to constitute an offence," it added.
The court also issued notice to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) through its chairman on complaints that journalists were not allowed to work freely and pursue their careers.
“[The PEMRA chairman] is directed to submit his written response disclosing action taken against the media houses/television channels which resort to such tactics,” the order read.
"PEMRA should also disclose its role in ensuring that press freedom is ensured and that all political parties, both in the government and in opposition, receive the same broadcast time in compliance with the reported judgments in the cases of Fatehyab Ali Khan and Muhammad Aslam Saleemi."
The apex court noted that the “ever so frequent attacks” on journalists and their abductions, including in the Federal Capital Territory, Islamabad, was another violation of fundamental rights which had been raised in the application.
The Constitution in its Article 9 guarantees the right to one’s liberty and Article 10 of the Constitution safeguards illegal arrests and detention.
"This matter becomes a matter of concern when the perpetrators are not arrested and, all the more so, when it happens under the cameras of the Safe City Project, Islamabad. Inability in this regard may suggest incompetence, which may constitute dereliction of duty, or far worse abetment, which is an offence.
Therefore, notice be also issued to the Inspector General of Police of the Islamabad Capital Territory and the Ministry of Interior through its secretary to separately submit their written replies under their respective signatures listing the number of attacks on journalists, the progress made in the investigation of the FIRs, including identifying the attackers, and whether the recordings from the cameras of the Safe City Project were used to trace out the perpetrators. The amount spent on the Safe City Project [should] also be disclosed.”
The court observed that allegations had also been made that media houses/TV channels, which agreed to project a particular political narrative and suppress a contrary one, benefitted financially by misusing public exchequer funds as they were given advertisements while others were deprived.
"Therefore, a notice be also issued to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through its secretary, who is directed to provide details of the amounts paid/disbursed on account of advertisements in the last financial year till date, and the criteria, if any, used in determining the beneficiaries. Other benefits that may have been given, including foreign trips, also be disclosed.”
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The court noted that Article 227 of the Constitution mandates abiding by the injunctions of Islam. Propagating the truth is an obligation stipulated in the Holy Qur’an. The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) stated that to speak against injustices and tyranny constitutes jihad-e-akbar, the greater jihad. Therefore, let a notice be also issued to the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony … through its secretary, who is directed to submit if the Ministry has done anything to ensure that the speaking and broadcasting of the truth is encouraged."
The court noted that as it was a matter pertaining to the work which the human rights ministry should be doing, let it, through its secretary, submit [to the court] what it had about the complaints.
The court also decided to treat this application as one under Article 184(3) of the Constitution because it demonstrated that matters of public importance had been raised with reference to the enforcement of fundamental rights, including Articles 9, 11, 13, 14(1), 14(2), 15, 18, 19, 19A, 23, 24(1) and 25A and as such it met the stipulated criteria prescribed in Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
“Moreover, if the allegations which have been leveled are true then it would be a grave transgression of the Constitution requiring urgent redressal.”
The court also ordered issuance of notices to the representative bodies of the press -- Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) to state whether the allegations made in the application were correct or otherwise.
"Notices to be also issued to the public sector Pakistan Television Corporation (PTC) and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) through their respective Managing Directors/Heads, who are directed to submit in writing whether they are abiding by the guaranteed fundamental right of a free press.”
The court adjourned the hearing until August 26 by or before which all replies should be filed.
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