16 journalists move to IHC to demand freedom of expression for Nawaz Sharif

16 journalists move to IHC to demand freedom of expression for Nawaz Sharif

In an unprecedented move, as many as sixteen prominent journalists have reportedly filed a petition in Islamabad High Court (IHC) to allow airing the speeches and interviews of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the country. They include Najam Sethi, Ziauddin, Nasim Zehra, Asma Sherazi, Gharida Faruqi, Munazie Jehangir, Saleem Safi, Mansoor Ali Khan and others.

The official Twitter handle of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was quick to respond: “Journalists are meant to be unbiased politically & not supposed to be a party worker.”

The petition comes over a month after the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) banned broadcast and rebroadcast of any speech, interview or public address of absconders or proclaimed offenders.

The regulatory body, in a statement, prohibited the broadcasting of content including commentary, opinions or suggestions about the potential fate of sub-judice matter which tends to prejudice the determination by a court and a tribunal in compliance with the order passed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

“If the licensee fails to comply with the aforementioned directives, the authority shall take action under Section 29 and 30 of PEMRA Ordinance which may result in the imposition of fine and suspension/revocation of license,” it added.

Sharif had left for London late last year after securing bail for medical treatment in the Chaudhry Sugar Mills case and the Al Azizia reference.

Read More: Is Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman using international lobbies to pressurize Pakistani courts?

The Supreme Court, on July 28, 2017, had disqualified Nawaz in the Panama Papers case and ordered the NAB to file separate cases which were respectively called Avenfiled, Al-Azizia and Flagship references.

Journalist Nasim Zehra has announced to withdraw her name from the petition. “I was told was being filed 4 media freedom-instead it’s abt rights of an absconder re article 19. Am withdrawing from petition Wil continue to express my opinion on this in my Progs/columns,” she wrote on Twitter.

Media politics: how politicians and journalists defend each other?

Mir Shakilur Rahman, Editor-in-chief of Geo/Jang Group, was arrested in Lahore by the NAB on March 12. Nawazish Ali, NAB spokesperson says media tycoon’s arrest has been in a case pertaining to the clandestine allotment of a 54-kanal piece of land in 1986 – from the then government of CM Nawaz Sharif.

Later on, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Information Secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb said that the opposition parties filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against the arrest of Geo and Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rehman.

In a statement, Marriyum said the PML-N, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) collectively filed the petition in public interest.

Interestingly, the Pakistan Union of Journalists decided not to support Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman and did not call for protest.

Marriyum said the petition pleads that freedom of expression and the right to information is an essential part of Article 17 of the constitution. She said media is the fourth pillar of the state and the freedom of expression is the basic foundation of a free nation. Articles 4, 9, 10A, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 19A are the custodian of the right to freedom of expression, the petition argues. It states that in a democratic country, freedom of expression and freedom of the media is an essential condition and component of democracy.

The petition maintained that NAB violated the constitution to arrest the head of the largest media group of the country, adding that Rehman’s arrest has a specific context because he was being constantly pressured to stop criticism of NAB.

It is worth noting that the same media house has been accused of supporting Nawaz Sharif and opposing the PTI. As a matter of fact, back in 2018, the SC reportedly grilled the Capital Development Authority (CDA) for its inability to regulate property/land. The apex court also emphasized on payment of property regularization fee during the hearing. The top judge had reportedly distanced himself from those remarks, explaining that the court had been referring to the CDA in the Banigala case, not the government, and issued notices to the publications.

The News and GEO misreported the matter saying “the PTI-led government has no plan and capabilities to run the affairs of the state.” During the yesterday’s hearing Jang Editor Hanif Khalid, who was present in court, was asked by then Chief Justice Saqib Nisar to explain how his remarks were misreported and published, and then debated on television later that night.

The then CJP also reminded the editor of the fact that their reporter did not come to the court. “Your reporter does not even come to court. You want institutions to clash with each other,” the CJP remarked. The top judge, irked by the irresponsible reporting, further asked: “Are we sitting here to harm institutions?” Justice Ijazul Ahsan said: “Why is it only your organization that misreports stories? You report the news wrong and then join your hands in forgiveness the next day.”

The opposition and particularly PML-N took up the matter and criticized the government just after the remarks by the CJP were misreported. The top judge advised the media houses to refrain from indulging in petty politics and malicious campaigns against the sitting government at the cost of greater instability in the country. The representatives of The News and Jang agreed not to publish any news irresponsibly. But as a matter of fact, the misreporting of the top judge’s remarks by the Geo exposed the publication and its hidden political agenda.

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