Our right to know

Published: July 7, 2012
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore 

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

The refusal of the Supreme Court Registrar to render to the Public Accounts Committee any details of the plots ostensibly allotted to the Honourable Judges leaves a distinctive and familiar bad taste in the mouth. The reason put forth by the Registrar is that according to Article 68 of the Constitution, no discussion can take place in parliament regarding the conduct of any judge of the Superior Courts  “in discharge of his duties”. The argument is indeed peculiar since I certainly hope that the Registrar is not implying that the land was acquired in discharge of duties. Let us get a few things clear at the outset; firstly, no allegation has been made against any judge or the judiciary. Secondly, even if an extra plot was accepted, it forms no basis of a prima facie misconduct. In this light, the reluctance or the outright denial seems faintly paranoid and defensive, in any event puzzling. I have a feeling that because the Supreme Court thinks that parliament is made up of incompetent crooks, it (the SC) cannot and should not subject itself to scrutiny by them. If that is so, the problem should be obvious: clichés likes “checks and balances”, “who will guard the guards” etc. The SC is empowered to interpret the law and decide what is permissible, yet the refusal comes too close to ambitiously high-minded self-comparisons with two of the four Caliphs. I am against anyone being held to the standards of the pious Caliphs and quite content with imperfect temporal constitutional standards. Yet, to the cynic it may seem as what can be colloquially termed as a “having-it-both-ways” approach.

This is not merely about the assets of judges but about the fundamentally larger question of freedom of information and its nexus with democracy. We live in a society and a system which thrives on restricted, controlled information. Given the general fondness shown by the SC towards Indian precedent, the Supreme Court of India website contains details of the assets of sitting and former judges and their spouses. Not only rendered to parliament, but for everyone to see. Now that is a precedent worthy of emulating. I see no reason why the National Assembly, provincial assemblies and Senate websites should not have detailed assets of all their members.

Recently, we have seen the SC expressing its ire at members of parliament for possessing dual nationalities and how that makes their loyalties suspect. When asked in Court by a counsel if any of the judges have dual nationality, the terse response was that they do not sit in decision over matters of national security. That could ordinarily be true; yet, what was the ‘Memo Commission’ or the ‘Abbottabad Commission’, if not a national security matter? One would have thought that the SC would have volunteered its assets and dual nationalities (if any) so as not to give anyone a ground for unjustified or malicious criticism. After the insertion of Article 19-A (Freedom of information) of our Constitution, any citizen can petition and demand this information and I hope someone does.

It seems that the Abbottabad Commission report is not going to be made public, at least not the complete report. That would be a travesty and a shame, after all the noise about breach of sovereignty and competence/complicity, some of us are genuinely curious to know what happened. We do not want summarised findings but want to be trusted enough to be given the entire report so we can reach our own conclusions and interpretations. Do not shield us from unwelcome and disturbing information, most of us are big boys and girls and it takes a lot to scandalise us. Also, it is paternalistic, patronising, undemocratic and plainly arrogant.

Remaining on gagging and denying of information, I have been told that an official website of the Ahmadi community has been shut down by the PTA. On hearing of this customary stupidity by the PTA, I checked if the website of the Sipah-i-Sahaba (SSP) is still functional and I regret to inform you it is alive and kicking, with the homepage having the same singular concept phrased differently in varying intensity of “Shias are kafirs”.  If you do not see the trouble here, then there is nothing I can say to convince you. This illustrates the problem of allowing partial information; the distinction between dangerous and harmless is often lost. As a general rule we need no protection from diverse or even unpleasant information with the only exceptions being direct provocation to violence (under which the SSP would fall) and defamation. The greatest classical text on the matter is arguably John Milton’s Aeropagitica which beautifully makes the case that when you deny someone the right to speak, you also deny me the right to hear what they have to say and make my own mind.

Heinrich Heine in 1821 wrote in his play Almansor, “that was merely foreplay, where they have burned books; they will end up burning human beings”. The exhibition of ancient cruelty and superstition in Bahawalpur should shock and depress everyone; equally disturbing is the lack of sustained mainstream coverage and outrage. Ironically, Heine was writing about the burning of the Holy Quran during the Spanish Inquisition. The irony and the prescience is further compounded by the fact that works of Heinrich Heine were burnt by the Nazi regime just before and during the Holocaust. The lynching of probably a mentally handicapped man without a trial for charges of blasphemy should send shivers down everyone’s spine. This is fatal, luckless roulette with a crooked wheel. Holding your peace is not really a relevant consideration. This is the price of not holding that debate on blasphemy laws after Salmaan Taseer’s murder. The Sialkot lynching made us all very mad, and rightly so, Bahawalpur should make us even more made. Selective condemnation, like selective flow of information, is ultimately self-destructive.

We should exempt ourselves from the smug offer of being protected from unpalatable, disobliging and controversial information by the government, media and judiciary for the simple reason that the alternative is infinitely worse.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Max
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:24PM

    Mr. Ijaz, Appreciate your analysis but you are a very simple young-man and I like that. When was the last time you heard of any accountability of people in the power corridors? Sahib were always sahibs before and after British came and left.
    Just focus on your practice otherwise you will end up like me: frustrated, and disillusioned. I sure don’t want to see that happening to you.
    Again, good job.


  • Parvez
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:38PM

    When you shine you shine bright and strong. The Saroop Ijaz I like to read.


  • Really
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:43PM

    Saroop – you are very eloquent – you’re probably the most articulate writer in the Pak English press today. However, all this eloquence and articulation exists in a tiny bubble barely accessible to the masses who are exposed to and mostly believe in the outright lies and propaganda from Hamid Mirs and Juvade Chories of the media. What a waste.


  • Reader
    Jul 7, 2012 - 10:59PM

    What a Master piece from Saroop Once again..awesome. well apart frm appreciation, Just wonder why do august court seek details of HC judges and lower judiciary assets details? why every year a judge from Session judge to Civil judge/magistrate tender his assets details? why? aint they performing judicial duties?


  • Sameer Awan
    Jul 7, 2012 - 11:45PM

    The articles like these should be taught in our schools and colleges so that our younger generation could learn something from the mistakes which we are commiting right now. A superb article indeed.


  • sidjeen
    Jul 7, 2012 - 11:53PM

    see nothing, hear nothing, speak nothing. that’s the only way a sane person can live in this country.


  • Anonymous
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:12AM

    Bravo saroop….


  • Javaid R. Shami
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:13AM

    Well done Mr. Ijaz. However you should be aware that the link to the Supreme Court of India’s website as given is incorrect. The get to the details of the assets of the judges and their spouses follow this link http://bit.ly/LVrlxw.


  • Arifq
    Jul 8, 2012 - 1:19AM

    Reading Saroop is a pleasure and education, please keep writing and many thanks!


  • Uza Syed
    Jul 8, 2012 - 1:52AM

    Brilliant, just brilliant —- and ——- courageous —– and —— very relevant indeed. Saroop Ijaz, this is how the truth must be spoken —— laud and clear —– without any ambiguity. The bunch sitting up there in the hills must be taught a lesson or two in humility and in case of learning disability, must be forced down from their high horses. Bless your heart, Saroop Sahib, and more power to your thought provoking ideas and even more power to your pen. Thank you for the guts to standing up and being counted. And yes, I demand full disclosure of the assets of the whole bench the 17 judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and I demand that we must be informed if any or many of them do possess more than 1 plot of land and how did they acquire them. “in discharge of his duties” of duty does not mean much, those who accept bribes while sitting in a position of power can take the same plea. How many of the judges have dual nationalities, please let us know.


  • Jul 8, 2012 - 2:06AM

    Everyone from media to political leaders talk about ‘declaration of assets’ but no one mentions to ‘declare the SOURCE of those assets’. Declare and prove the source of assets, should be spoken and written together.


  • Logic Europe
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:55AM

    mr saroop ,I look forwords to reading your master pieces
    you argue your case most beautifully and you tell the truth but who is listening
    These courts shaming Pakistan and its people .Judges are confrontational in the courts arrogant in the public and consider themselves above every one else


  • Mirza
    Jul 8, 2012 - 3:05AM

    There comes a time in one’s life when he/she is at a loss for words. I am shocked at the truthful Op Ed by SI. Kudos to the writer and ET for being open, honest and balanced. Recommend

  • Feroz
    Jul 8, 2012 - 6:26AM

    Another masterpiece from an intellectual titan. Saroop Ijaz is one of the few to always raise his hand and be counted. It is a pleasure to read Saroop, more so in an era where character and integrity are in short supply. The power brokers will keep playing their power games even though the country continues bleeding.


  • Abushinawar
    Jul 8, 2012 - 7:30AM

    I am waiting for a time when some one will write in Urdu Papers and on TV screens to clarify the ppl what is right and what is wrong.
    a best piece by Saroop. If a judge called a verdict as the ppl’s call then why he hesitate to show the accounts as the money comes from tax payers.


  • Riaz Khan
    Jul 8, 2012 - 11:31AM

    Simply superb!


  • Lala Gee
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:16PM

    Excellent article. Although, I criticized your previous article on the same subject for the reasons of too obvious bias, but this one is much balanced and based on genuine arguments. The language is also simple (better) without tongue twisting. Good work.


  • kamran naqvi
    Jul 8, 2012 - 12:54PM

    Excellent, well done Saroop.


  • Sheikh Sarmad
    Jul 8, 2012 - 1:21PM

    masterstroke…what eloquence…We have hope if people like you are around.


  • mateen
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:28PM

    Excellent, I fear these words wont reach to those at the driving seat. However effort on your part is priceless.


  • Truth
    Jul 8, 2012 - 2:33PM

    Instead of back thumping the writer add some intellect in the comments if you have some


  • observer
    Jul 8, 2012 - 3:59PM

    Some in Pakistan would deny ‘immunity’ when provided in the Constitution, and arrogate ‘immunity’ when none is available.

    Apparently some people are above and beyond all laws, after all.


  • Hassan
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:14PM

    @Truth: Chief, the guy has done a great job, let him get the appreciation. FYI – I am not related to the writer. Looking forward to some intellect from your side.


  • elementary
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:25PM

    “selective condemnation and selctive flow of information is ultimately self destructive.”

    Agreed. So does selective criticism in journalism.


  • Max
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:41PM

    @Truth: I am not sure what you are looking for. The authuor seems to be a well read and articulate young man. I do not know him personally otherwise would have asked him to give you a call before sending his op. ed to ET.


  • ishrat salim
    Jul 8, 2012 - 4:46PM

    This is just great & being truthful….keep it up Saroop Sb….Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Jul 8, 2012 - 6:19PM

    SI, as usual, this week you were the best. I have to admit that this week KS, Khalid Saheband Ayaz Amir were also excellent touching different topics
    I hope AA writes in ET as this is right forum for him.
    Waiting for you next op Ed.


  • Truth
    Jul 8, 2012 - 9:00PM

    Let me put it bluntly: Americans, jews, indians and all those who don’t want stability in pakistan will always give couple of billion dollars if required to these corrupt politicians to keep them on top of our heads.
    This system will never bring Imran to the top and we will be suffering because of these thugs for a long time.
    Please don’t wait for democracy to take roots in pakistan, in a country which is influenced heavily from abroad unlike indian democratic model we are trying to follow.Recommend

  • Max
    Jul 8, 2012 - 9:25PM

    Madam/Sir, With all due respects, your remarks are very prejudicial towards other nationalities and religions. You need to grow up and act like an adult. Hate, racism, and bigotry will not take you anywhere.
    I am quite distressed with you remarks. May nature give you the wisdom to think rationally and look at things as an educated person.


  • Truth
    Jul 8, 2012 - 10:10PM

    Think again if I am the one who is naive or you who think that americans don’t have any agenda threatening the interests of pakistan.
    I do not preach hatred against any religion or nationality but am mature enough to know that there are people out there who can go to any distance to achieve their interests. Just remember weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.


  • Butt
    Jul 9, 2012 - 10:16AM

    @Truth: Just remenber OBL in Pakistan.


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