Pakistan court: Free speech under threat in country
Islamabad: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has made it clear that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and, the courts being custodians of the constitution, would not allow curbs on freedom of expression in forms of banning any media house or TV channel.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah’s remarks came in the wake of the recent arrest of the owner and CEO of Pakistan’s biggest media group – which includes Jang, Geo TV & The News – Mir Shakilur Rahman by the country’s anti-graft watchdog, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
The IHC was hearing a case of media ethics and regulations when Geo TV’s senior anchorperson Hamid Mir drew the court’s attention to the arrest of the media group’s owner on Thursday.
Despite the fact Rahman appeared before the NAB and replied to all their queries and extended full cooperation with the investigating officers, he was taken into custody by NAB, said Mir, alleging it was also against the guidelines the IHC had recently issued regarding the arrest of the accused persons.
Rahman’s only crime was the he didn’t bar his TV channel or newspapers from criticising the NAB and the government, he further said. “Why should one be afraid of criticism?” asked the chief justice.
Mir informed the court that the government had also issued a notification to regulate social media; however, the federal ministers are unaware of these regulations, and they have openly admitted that it was issued without due deliberation of the federal cabinet.
Barrister Jahangir Jadoon, who has challenged the social media regulations, informed the court that their application was in process in the same court that directed the government to respond. He said the media watchdog, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), had ordered cable operators to change the Geo New positions. He prayed the court to take action over these moves against freedom of media. The chief justice said the court doesn’t have suo motu powers.
The IHC Chief Justice, however, expressed concerns that Pakistan was at the bottom of the Rule of Law index likewise the country was at 143rd position in the freedom of expression’s list.
He termed it alarming and said that the government should have realized this grave situation.
“The constitutional courts of Pakistan will not allow laws that guarantee the rights of the people, including freedom of expression, to be violated,” Justice Athar Minallah said.
On Rahman’s arrest, however, Justice Minallah said the court had interpreted the law and it was up to the authorities concerned to implement it in letter and spirit.
Editors’ representative body Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) can file a separate petition against the arrest, said the Chief Justice.