No restraint on Ansar Abbasi: SHC -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

No restraint on Ansar Abbasi: SHC

KARACHI: A division bench of the Sindh High Court, while hearing an appeal relating to the defamation suit filed by Mrs. Fauzia Wahab against Editor Investigation, The News, Ansar Abbasi, has clarified and interpreted the earlier restraining order passed by the Honourable Single Judge, as not restraining Mr. Abbasi from pursuing his profession as a responsible journalist to express any of his views and opinions provided he does so in good faith, for bona fide reasons and in public interest.

On 15.6.2010, the Division Bench, while hearing Mr. Ansari Abbasi’s appeal, accepted the plea of his counsel to interpret the restraining order passed on 8.6.2010 as not barring him from expressing any views or opinions provided he does so in good faith, for bona fide reasons and in public interest.

Mr. Abbasi’s counsel drew the Honourable Court’s attention to Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance 2002, which provides that in defamation proceedings a person has a defence if he shows that the matter commented on is fair and in public interest and is an expression of opinion and not an assertion of fact and was published in good faith.

During the hearing, the counsel representing Mrs. Wahab vehemently opposed the plea of the counsel of Mr. Abbasi and sought dismissal of the appeal on the basis that the stay application was already fixed for hearing for 21.6.2010.

In the end, the Honourable Court ordered, “We have heard both the learned counsel. In the facts and circumstances of the case, we would dispose of this appeal by directing that the Appellant (Ansar Abbasi) is not restrained from practising his profession as a responsible journalist provided he remains within the parameters of Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, as referred to above.”

Explaining the order of the Division Bench, Ansar Abbasi’s counsel Jam Asif Mehmood said that at the very outset, he had submitted before the Division Bench that his client was not above the law and that the Honourable Single Judge had already fixed the stay application of the plaintiff (Fauzia Wahab) for hearing for June 21, 2010. He said that he argued before the court that it was not appropriate to place such a blanket restraint on such a senior journalist, and that this Honourable Division Bench may kindly dispose of the instant appeal by modifying or clarifying the ad interim restraining order to the extent that Mr. Ansar Abbasi was free to express his views and opinions and author any article if the same are bona fide or in public interest or in good faith. These rights are also available under Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance 2002.

In response, he said, the counsel appearing for Mrs. Fauzia Wahab had sought dismissal of the appeal.

Jam said that the Honourable Division Bench while acceding to his request disposed of the appeal by clarifying that the said restraining order may not be treated as restraining the defendant (Mr. Ansar Abbasi) from expressing his views or opinions in any talk shows or publishing anything provided that the same was done bona fide or in public interest or in good faith, thereby confirming that Mr. Ansar Abbasi enjoyed all the rights under Section 5(b). Mrs. Fauzia Wahab’s counsel strongly opposed the grant of this request, Jam added.

Jam clarified that during the proceedings, he ensured that he did not make any adverse comments either against the present government or against the person of the plaintiff (Fauzia Wahab). Even after the order was announced, neither his client Ansar Abbasi nor his counsel issued any statement to the media. Mr. Jam added that even on June 21, 2010, whatever insults the opposite party might hurl at his client or the media group Mr. Abbasi works for, he would not say anything against the government or the person of the plaintiff. He would just oppose the stay application and submit his arguments purely on the basis of law.

He said that before a courtroom full of lawyers, Fauzia Wahab’s counsel, appearing without notice, openly launched attacks against the defendant (Ansar Abbasi), the newspapers that he writes for and also the media group he works with.

Jam said that it is odd that immediately after the announcement of the above order, while he and his client and the newspaper for which Mr. Abbasi writes remained silent about it to wait for the written order, text messages, including those from a mobile phone number of a senior PPP leader, were sent to senior journalists, wrongly and mischievously claiming that the Honourable Divisional Bench headed by Honourable Chief Justice of Sindh High Court had ‘dismissed’ Ansar AbbasiÂ’s appeal. Such messages, Jam said, were also forwarded to his client Mr Abbasi by some leading journalists and anchorpersons. Jam said that his client has saved all such messages.

It may be noted that PPP’s spokesperson Mrs. Fauzia Wahab has filed a suit against Ansar Abbasi claiming damages of Rs200m for having defamed her in a programme of a TV channel. While the programme was recorded in Islamabad, it was broadcast from Lahore.

The plaintiff has not made sponsors or the host or any other person of the TV channel as defendant. It was on Mrs. Wahab’s application, argued by her son Barrister Murtaza Wahab, that the Honourable Justice Maqbool Baqar of Sindh High Court passed restraining order against Ansar Abbasi.
Source: The News