Aitzaz furious with media, warns of Rs800m damages
ISLAMABAD: Friday saw a rather perturbed Aitzaz Ahsan venting his fury at the media in general and the Jang group in particular. After being refused a judicial gag order against The News from the Supreme Court, Mr. Ahsan warned that writing against him may cost journalists their jobs.
While making his gag bid in the courtroom, Aitzaz Ahsan read out some excerpts of The News story “Seven persons in Swiss case do not enjoy immunity: SC” published on April 13 and repeatedly pressed the SC-bench to pass a restraining order against this newspaper and to stop it from publishing such stories in the future.
Despite his repeated insistence, the Supreme Court told Aitzaz that no restraining order will be passed. He then told the court that he was considering suing The News for Rs800 to Rs900 million and intoned that the journalists of this newspaper will end up losing their jobs. A cursory reading of the days proceedings on Friday show that the seasoned lawyer may be going a little off colour in his anger with the newspaper. What was apparent was that the government is failing in its obvious attempt to get the case proceedings delayed on the grounds that a new attorney general had been appointed and more time was needed by the new AG to understand the case. The seven-member bench rejected all requests of Aitzaz on this count, telling him that the AG was the prosecutor and he should have no problem with this as a defence lawyer.
Why would a defence lawyer want the prosecutor to be fully prepared to nail his own client was what many in the courtroom could not understand. The court finally categorically told Aitzaz to start his arguments. On this, Aitzaz picked up The News and told the court that he was under great pressure because of reporting of a ‘certain section of the media’ and he wanted to read out and inform the court about today’s story of this newspaper. “They are attacking me and levelling baseless allegations against me. Today, they have written that I have lied before the court. They have written that I have stated before the court that there is no accused person in Swiss money laundering case except President Zardari and that it is a lie,” Aitzaz said and added “My Lord, this was my statement and still you have to make a judgement on my statement but they have already declared that I tell a lie.”
Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told Aitzaz that it was an issue between him and the media, so he should not bring it into this case. But, Aitzaz insisted that he was a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court and felt extremely pressured and influenced because of this story so the court should look into this and pass a restraining order against the newspaper.
Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk told Aitzaz that whatever was published in the media had nothing to do with this case and asked him to keep these things away from this case.
Aitzaz told the court that this newspaper had also written that the Supreme Court ‘established’ that there were seven other accused persons in the Swiss money laundering case besides President Zardari. On this, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk said: “We have just made this observation.” (Fact of the matter is that The News never wrote the seven-member bench had established this and had simply reported the observation of the bench as per routine.)
Two honourable judges of the bench, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, told Aitzaz that after his statement that there were no accused persons except President Zardari, we saw that as per the record of the case there were seven other accused persons beside the President who do not enjoy immunity. (The same was reported correctly as it was said). It was clear that Aitzaz, who was furious that his statement was termed as ‘almost a lie’ in The News story, was misrepresenting The News story while standing in front of the bench with the newspaper in his hands. Justice Gulzar Ahmed told Aitzaz that the bench is bound to strictly remain within the record of the case and could not go out of it in any way. “Mr. Aitzaz, if you have any problem with the story of the newspaper you have all the right to sue them and start legal proceedings against them.”
On this, Aitzaz said he was considering to do that and declared that staffers of this newspapers will lose their jobs. After this Aitzaz started delivering a speech and made these strange but interesting arguments: “I have always struggled for the independence of the media. I have fought for this group. When General Musharraf had put their channel off-air, I fought for them. My wife and children lit the candles in their offices. I had been fighting for media independence since the period of General Zia-ul-Haq along with likes of Habib Jalib when the later wrote the famous poem ‘Zulmat ko Zia, Sarsar ko Saba, Banday ko Khuda Kia Likhna’.”
When Justice Osmany asked Aitzaz what was the specific thing in the article which, according to him, was wrong, Aitzaz read out the lines about the seven accused persons. Justice Osmany told him that this was what he had said, saying that the president was not the only person in this case.
Aitzaz said: “Sir, they have written that I am a liar.” Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk asked Aitzaz this means you have an objection over the language used in the article. Aitzaz said that he couldn’t fight the case if he was being declared a liar. Aitzaz then continued his attack saying: “This is ‘yellow journalism’ and the court should pass restraining order against it.”
Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk told Aitzaz that no order could be given on this. Aitzaz said that he was a senior officer of this court and was being maligned, so at least the court should give some observation against this. On his repeated insistence, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk observed: “We do believe that this should not have been reported in this way as you are telling us. But, Mr Aitzaz, this is our observation which we made on what you had told us that you are hurt.”
The story the leading lawyer narrated outside the SC was again a different one. What Aitzaz told the media on this count when he came out of the court is as follows: Asking his junior to bring The News, he said, “The court has taken strict notice of this news report in which it is written that I spoke lies before the bench. The court has snubbed them. The court has declared that news items is wrong.”
Now, without any further detail, it is up to the honourable judges and the readers to decide whether Aitzaz spoke the truth outside the court before the media while repeating the observations of the judges.
In the courtroom, when after Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk gave his final observation that what Aitzaz was telling about the story should not have been published, Aitzaz tried to continue his speech on the media bashing and his role for media independence. That brought the judges’ patience to the brink. Justice Gulzar Ahmad told him that whatever he had to say he had said and the media had noted it, so there was no need to further linger on with this. “You should start your arguments now,” Justice Gulzar plainly told Aitzaz.
It is pertinent to point out that Aitzaz had said in the courtroom on Thursday that there was no accused person in Swiss money laundering case except President Zardari, while outside the court he had told the media that the Swiss Supreme Court had closed the case against these seven other accused persons before Malik Qayyum (ex-attorney general) wrote the letter to Swiss authorities.
The News proved Aitzaz wrong on the basis of document (Letter of Malik Qayyum to Swiss authorities) that even in this letter the government had asked the Swiss authorities to withdraw the cases and all claims against President Zardari, Mr Jens Schlegelmitch and all other accused persons.
This documentary evidence rattled Aitzaz who was proved wrong while asserting that the Swiss Supreme Court had closed the cases before Malik Qayyum’s letter. Aitzaz, instead of discussing this issue and proving his point of view as correct, started attacking The News and demanded a restraining order against the media.