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Who Is Responsible For Booking Journalists as Terrorists?

Pakistan: Who Is Responsible For the Mockery of Booking Journalists On Charges of Terrorism?

The Balochistan government has registered a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act against the chief executive and three other employees of a television channel, ARY Digital, for releasing a documentary about the attack on the former residency of the father of the nation. The three other employees are the Executive Director, Owais Tohid, the Quetta bureau chief, Shahid Hameed Rind and the Islamabad bureau chief Sabir Shakir.

A mystery has arisen as there is a great deal of confusion as to who actually ordered the registration of the case against the journalists. The Balochistan provincial government stated that it acted on instructions from the Supreme Court however, the Supreme Court denies that it made any such order.

Balochistan's provincial information department alleged in an FIR that ARY News, in its current affairs programme on Aug 13, ran "objectionable video clips" released by an outlawed outfit about the destruction of the Ziarat Residency after an attack in June.

A spokesman for the chief minister of Balochistan clarified that Dr Abdul Malik Baloch had no role in the registration of the FIR. Jan Mohammad Buledi, the spokesman, said: "The case against ARY News was registered on the Supreme Court's orders."

Today, August 27, 2013, the Chief Justice of Pakistan announced in open court that he had not ordered the case to be registered. He also asked the authorities to make inquiries into who did order the FIR to be registered.

The possible cause of this confusion was the strong protests by the journalists, civil society and some politicians which have forced the Supreme Court and the government of Balochistan to place the responsibility for the FIR on each other. There is actual evidence to show that the Supreme Court has for some time been taking a position against the freedom of expression by the media and the lawyer's community.

After the change of government the Chief Justice has diverted his attention towards the media, particularly towards the electronic media in the background of their debates on biased and tilted decisions of the courts. There have been some decisions where the benches of the Supreme Court, headed by the Chief Justice have not heard the other side of the legal arguments and have given one-sided decisions. Such decisions have provoked the lawyer's community who are agitating against 'dictatorial' decisions of the apex court. The electronic media has been providing sizeable coverage to the lawyer's critical point of view.

One of the points the lawyers are objecting to is the continuous use of contempt of court rulings and Sou Moto actions of the Supreme Court which bars the concept of fair trial. The Chief Justice has also started using these methods against the media and the journalists which has infuriated both civil society actors and media personnel and it is widely believed that this is just another way of squeezing the freedom of expression. Civil society actors believe that whereas in the past it was the military government that was controlling freedom of expression it is now the Supreme Court through contempt of court rulings and Sou Moto actions and it is necessary to note that these actions became more common when the media agitated for the prosecution of the Chief Justice's son on corruption charges.

Due to the timely and loud protests of the civil society the Chief Justice had to reconsider his position and even retreat. The actual position is that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken notice of programme on the Ziarat Residency aired by the ARY Channel and issued notice to the chief executive officer through an expeditious mode of service for August 15 to appear before the court and explain as to why proceedings may not be ordered against ARY in the national and public interests. The apex court also issued notices to the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to appear in person and explain as to what action is called for in view of the above facts.

ARY fearing action from PEMRA approached the Islamabad High Court and got a stay order from anyone taking action against it. The question which begs to be asked is as to why, in the presence of the stay order, the Supreme Court allegedly forced the government of Balochistan to file cases against the media personnel on charges of terrorism. The spokesperson of the chief minister of Balochistan has stated clearly that the case was registered on the orders of the Supreme Court and not on the orders of the chief minister.

It is on record that for the restoration of the Chief Justice and the independence of the judiciary one of the major factors was the use of the freedom of expression by the media houses and journalists against the repression by the military government. It appears that the Chief Justice who benefitted from this freedom of expression is now trying to strangle it to suit his own ends. The lawyers are also complaining that the Chief Justice is overstepping his mandate by interfering in political matters. According to the lawyer's community freedom of expression appears to becoming the main hindrance for the Chief Justice to put a halt to fair trial and his attempts to grab executive power.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls for an independent inquiry commission into the question of who ordered the FIR and the filing of a case in the anti-terrorism court against the journalists and ARY. The AHRC would also ask the Chief Justice to remember that it was freedom of expression that restored him to his exalted position. It is the prerogative of the editorial board of any media house to decide what materials should be used and how much coverage it should be given and this cannot be decided upon or governed through the regulations of PEMRA or the orders of the courts. Every institution has its own boundaries. If freedom of expression is denied there will be no question of rule of law, fair trial and justice for the people.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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