ISLAMABAD: On Thursday, Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah noted that it was not in the public interest to offer relief to an absconder when he heard a petition against the order of the electronic media watchdog that prohibited the broadcasting of speeches by convicted criminals, especially those of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The petition was pushed by the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and some journalists through Suleman Akram Raja, their lawyer.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) barred TV channels last month from broadcasting or re-broadcasting any voice, interview or public address made by absconders or suspected perpetrators.
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The legislative body further restricted the broadcasting of remarks, views or recommendations on the future fate of the topic of sub-judice.
The order was released in the wake of Sharif, who has been in London for medical care since receiving bail since last year, attacking state institutions in a speech broadcast live on TV channels while addressing the conference via video connection to all parties.
The IHC chief justice questioned the lawyer during the course of proceedings as to who were the petitioners requesting relief because no person had been identified by the Pemra order and the ‘two individuals’ affected by it were not even present.
The prosecutor replied that for the benefit of the public interest, the petitioners were seeking relief.
The judge observed that if the order of Pemra is done away with the relief of going live on air would be given to all absconders.
In addition, the chief justice noted that the court explained in the case of former military ruler Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf that it will not intervene with executive affairs. He added that Musharraf had been an absconder as well. Do the petitioners wish the speeches of Musharraf to be broadcast as well? “Inquired him.
The lawyer replied that the petition did not refer to an individual. The petitioners did not want to be prevented from distributing information to the media, he said.
The prosecutor contended that thousands of people had been harmed by the order, not just two people. “The right of citizens to information granted by the Constitution was affected by the prohibition,” he added, adding that Article 19(A) protected the right to freedom of speech.
The IHC chief justice observed that every person had the right to freedom of expression, but it could be contested only by the persons impacted by the Pemra order.
He also noted that an unconstitutional order could not even be contested by a declared criminal.
The judge claimed that absconders should first confess to the court and then take advantage of their civil rights.
The judge questioned if the petitioners wished all the absconders to be given relief, adding that the case was a measure for the whole judiciary system.
“It is not in the public interest to grant relief to an absconder,” he said This court can not give any absconder indirect relief,” he added, adding that there were foreign laws dealing with the issue.
The prosecutor claimed that the Pemra order has harmed journalists.
The IHC CJ observed that Pemra had forbidden the coverage of Sharif’s speeches and that the petitioners could lodge an appeal with the regulatory body against the decision pursuant to Section 31.
He noticed that since no one had appealed to Pemra, that meant that the ruling did not concern anybody.
If the “two individuals” [who are harmed by the order] have not reached the court, how will the petitioners file the case? “Inquired him.
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The judge observed that while Pemra had barred TV channels from broadcasting absconders’ speeches, every day they were still addressed in the newspapers.
The IHC CJ asked the lawyer to satisfy the court as to whether, after coming before the court, the absconders could benefit from the relief and whether the petitioners desired this relief for all the absconders.
The tribunal gave the prosecutor time to prepare for the lawsuit and adjourned the matter until 16 December.