Contempt of court sparks Senate fury

Treasury, opposition face off over judicial notices

Our Correspondent May 22, 2024
ANP’s Aimal Wali Khan addressing in Senate session. PHOTO: FILE


The Senate on Wednesday witnessed a heated debate over issues surrounding the contempt of court law, with lawmakers from both sides delivering fiery speeches.

The discussion also touched on a variety of hot topics, ranging from political prisoners and missing persons to the supremacy of parliament.

During the session, which was largely chaired by Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), treasury senators urged the judiciary to respect the elected representatives of the people and exercise restraint when issuing summons and contempt notices to senior officials.

Conversely, opposition senators criticized the government and the establishment, highlighting the need for the country to operate according to the Constitution and for the Senate to voice the concerns of the oppressed.

The proceedings continued from Tuesday’s session, where multiple lawmakers exercised their parliamentary privilege to criticize judges. Senator Faisal Vawda even moved a privilege motion against a sitting Supreme Court judge.

The session began with Deputy Chairman Syedal Khan presiding. Senator Sherry Rehman then took over and chaired the remainder of the proceedings. After initial formalities, the debate intensified over the contempt of court notice issued to Senator Faisal Vawda.

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar suggested that the issue of the contempt notice to Vawda be referred to the Senate Secretariat. He proposed that the Secretariat prepare a report and submit it to the Senate Chairman, who should then decide the future course of action.

The law minister denied any clash between institutions but emphasized that the Constitution of Pakistan does not grant any court the power to make arbitrary statements in anger. He stressed the need for everyone to exercise restraint.

Talal Chaudhry of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) reiterated his party's commitment to upholding the judiciary's decisions. "Despite facing allegations of contempt of court, I stand by my principles," he affirmed, underscoring that punishing lawmakers does not elevate the dignity of the courts.

Senator Mohsin Aziz of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) raised concerns over the absence of a production order for Senator Ijaz Chaudhry and criticized what he perceived as targeting of PTI's leadership.

He decried what he termed as the initiation of "unjust cases" against key figures within his party, expressing dissatisfaction with a resolution passed by a session with minimal attendance, questioning its legitimacy.

Senator Faisal Sabzwari of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) highlighted the need for universal respect, lamenting that elected representatives often find themselves excluded from this regard.

Read Parliament, judiciary urged to protect rights

He emphasized the constitutional obligation to honor not only the judiciary but also the elected officials.

He further decried the notion that speaking truth could be construed as contempt of court and defended Senator Faisal Vawda against being labeled a "proxy." In a broader question, he pondered whether Vawda and Mustafa Kamal, both hailing from Karachi, would face similar charges of contempt of court.

Criticizing certain court decisions, he pointed out disparities in judicial rulings. He cited an instance where one chief justice ordered the demolition of a residential tower in Karachi, because ordinary people lived there, while another chief justice intervened to preserve a tower on Constitution Avenue, because the wealthy had investment in that building.

Continuing, he said, one chief justice also allowed former military ruler Pervez Musharraf to even rewrite the Constitution. “If the judge unconsciously makes a mistake, he corrects it later but will that facility be available to us?” He warned if there was selective justice, people would talk.

In a passionate address, Aimal Wali Khan of the Awami National Party (ANP) lamented the perceived attempt to create friction between parliament and the judiciary during the ongoing session. He criticized government-aligned lawmakers for accusing the judiciary of practicing "selective justice and discriminatory contempt of court actions."

As a senior ANP leader, Khan vehemently rebuked both sides of the divide, cautioning that the sanctity of parliament should transcend partisan agendas. He emphasized the importance of parliament operating independently of ruling or opposition affiliations.

He reflected on the shifting tides of power dynamics, noting that those who once wielded influence were now advocating for the rule of law. He urged the House to reflect on who truly benefitted from the inception of Pakistan.

Delving into his family's history, he said: “I am the son of a traitor, son of a traitor, son of a traitor,” referring to the cases against his father, grandfather and the great-grandfather. “Perhaps after today’s speech I myself will also join that list [of traitors].”

Khan challenged the prevailing narratives in the country's textbooks, alleging that they were constructed upon falsehoods. He recounted an anecdote where Quaid-i-Azam cautioned the military leadership against assuming power for the sake of ruling, emphasizing that Pakistan was not created to subjugate its people.

He narrated an incident from the past, saying that Quaid-e-Azam was scheduled to visit Bacha Khan but then Gen Qayyum stopped him. When Quaid-i-Azam did not come, the reception for him turned into a protest in which scores of people were killed.

Six hundred Khudai Khidmatgars [followers of Bacha Khan] were mercilessly gunned down, yet their plight remains largely unacknowledged to this day. Families were denied the dignity of retrieving their loved ones' bodies until the cost of the bullets that ended their lives was extracted from them," he lamented.

In the face of such egregious violence, Khan highlighted the restraint exercised by Bacha Khan's followers, emphasizing that they refrained from retaliating with attacks on the GHQ or parliament.

Khan traced the escalation of tensions from the issue of missing persons to a direct confrontation between parliament and the judiciary. He noted that the judiciary's scrutiny of a colonel from a spy agency catalyzed the conflict, bringing the matter to the forefront of parliamentary discourse.

In his speech, Allama Raja Nasir Abbas of the Muttahida Wahdatul Msulimeen (MWM) demanded justice for all “not just for ourselves”, as he drew attention of the house towards a missing person Ahmed Farhad. “Let’s give rule of law to the country,” he stressed.

“Currently, there are more than 12,000 political prisoners in the country, including women. There are terrorism cases against Yasmin Rashid, Alia Hamza and others in different cities, this is injustice. People are protesting in Chaman and nobody listens to them,” he said.

“Power politics is the root of disease. The establishment is doing power politics. The country should be run according to the Constitution,” he said, urging the parliamentarians: “Raise your voice for all the oppressed, including the PTI founder.”


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ