Nothing in LHC order about banning Sharif, Maryam: SC
ISLAMABAD – The Supreme Court Tuesday observed there was nothing in the order which even remotely directed Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to ban Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Safdar or anybody else.
The top court further observed media speculation, panel discussions and press reports appearing on various channels, media outlets and in newspapers are “incorrect, baseless and unsubstantiated”.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo motu notice of the media reports and panel discussions on various channels based on an order passed by a full bench of the LHC on April 16.
“A false impression was intentionally sought to be created amongst the general public by such news reports as well as panel discussions that Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Safdar had been directed to be taken off air and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had been directed to stop broadcasting of their speeches,” the top court observed in its written order.
“A false impression was also sought to be created that the fundamental right to freedom of speech enjoyed by all citizens and guaranteed by the Constitution has been curtailed, restricted or diminished through the said order,” the top court further observed, adding the opinions, verbal or in writing, had clearly and obviously been expressed without even reading the contents of the order of the high court.
During the course of the hearing, the chief justice first read out the headlines of the English newspapers regarding orders of the LHC and asked where the LHC order had mentioned the ban on anyone.
The chief justice directed Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf to read the LHC order. The CJP observed these orders had directed the Pemra to implement articles 19 and 68 of the Constitution. He summoned the Pemra chairman, but a member of the authority, Ashfaq Jumani, appeared.
Jumani informed the bench that he had been looking after the affairs of the Pemra since the post of chairman fell vacant.
The chief justice asked him about the progress of the Pemra on allegedly contemptuous speeches, adding why the matter was lingering on. Jumani said the authority was issuing notices to the channels. Not convinced with the response, the chief justice observed the Pemra was powerless. Justice Ijazul Ahsan, another member of the bench, observed the Pemra was toothless, mindless and speechless. However, there was no concrete reply with the Pemra representative to the query.
Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed lamented the media reports published in newspapers and observed they were deliberately manoeuvred. He also termed the reporting of the LHC’s order as a classic example of manoeuvring.
The chief justice said he was perturbed in the night over what his high court did, but after going through it, he appreciated the order.
During the course of the hearing, Advocate Salman Akram Raja told the court that he had represented the Pemra in the LHC. The chief justice severely admonished Raja and observed he had already appeared before the courts as a counsel for the Sharif family in various cases, so how he could represent the point of view of the Pemra being controlled by the incumbent government.
“We are issuing you a notice to explain your position as to how you could become a counsel. It is conflict of interests. We might suspend your license,” the chief justice told Raja.
Raja tried to explain that he had a long standing with the Pemra and had appeared in many cases representing it. “You also have a long standing with Sharifs,” responded chief justice, indicating his pleading for Hassan and Hussain Nawaz in Panama case and for PML-N in the case of the Elections Act, 2017.
The top court had also issued notices to Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, but nobody appeared on their behalf. The counsel appearing on behalf of other respondents and AGP Ausaf agreed there was nothing in the LHC order.
The AGP and counsel for Pemra conceded the contents of the order did not support any such conclusion. They also agreed that as guardians of the Constitution and custodians of the fundamental rights, the superior courts of the country had the mandate to ensure protection of fundamental rights with full force, strictly in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
“I have already conveyed you on phone that we do not require state safety. This nation will guard us,” the chief justice said, referring to the offer of the government to provide extra security after the incident of firing at Justice Ahsan’s residence in Lahore.
On April 16, the LHC ordered the Pemra to implement the law in terms of Article 19 of the Constitution read with Section 27 of the Pemra Ordinance, 2002, and Section 2(j) of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements), Code of Conduct, 2015. The LHC further ordered the Pemra to decide various applications moved by a number of applicants for enforcement of the law against hate speech within 15 days.
“Having satisfied ourselves that the order of the learned high court does not in any way curb, restrict, curtail or diminish the fundamental right of freedom of speech as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution and merely directs the Pemra to enforce the law, which it is obliged to do and decide the applications pending before it relating to hate speech against any and all organs of the state,” the top court observed, while disposing of the suo motu notice.