Lahore - The Lahore High Court on Monday temporarily barred TV channels from airing alleged “anti-judiciary speeches” delivered by PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other 14 PML-N leaders.

A three-judge full bench headed by Justice Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Masood Jahangir resumed hearing of 27 miscellaneous contempt petitions against the ruling party leaders for making anti-judiciary remarks.

The bench referred the petitions to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and gave it 15 days to remove anti-judiciary content as well as decide the complaints pending with it regarding the alleged contemptuous speeches.

Until the regulatory body decides the complaints, no alleged “anti-judiciary speeches” gave by PML-N leaders will be allowed to be aired during this two-weeks period, the court ruled.

It directed Pemra to ensure strict monitoring of TV programmes to prevent any such content from being broadcast, saying that the judiciary will also monitor TV content to ensure no violations occur.

The court also rejected an application filed by AK Dogar advocate on behalf of Sharif requesting that Justice Naqvi recuse himself from the full bench.

“The judge authored the order against Nawaz Sharif allowing no chance of defence,” the application filed by Dogar read. It added that the remarks caused stress to his client after which he expects no fair treatment at the hands of Justice Naqvi.

But the bench dismissed the defense counsel’s reservations in this regard.

During the hearing Pemra was slammed for not taking action on the complaints about airing of anti-judiciary content on the television channels.

Counsel for one of the petitioners, Azhar Siddiqui informed the court that Pemra did not take any action over petitions filed with it regarding alleged anti-judiciary speeches by PML-N leaders.

He asserted that the regulator had completely failed to fulfill its duty to ensure stoppage of contemptuous speeches. His job was to bring anti-judiciary remarks on record, he added.

Representing the regulator, Advocate Salman Akram Raja argued that the petitioners were raising unnecessary objections against the regulatory body’s authority, which was taking steps to decide all the complaints on the matter.

He said however said Pemra had rejected an application against alleged anti-judiciary speeches on “technical grounds” using its authority.

“Should we not infer from this that you [Pemra] allowed airing of anti-judiciary speeches by rejecting the application?” the bench asked.

But Raja said that it was not like that, though “Pemra may have made a minor error [of judgment] by rejecting the application”.

Justice Naqvi observed that whereas Article 19-A of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to “fair criticism” to every citizen, the right is conditional to law and regulation.

“It can’t be that anyone out there goes about denouncing judicial matters and decisions in the name of fair criticism,” he remarked, adding that it would make sense for an expert or lawyer to dwell on judicial matters but not everyone can be allowed to do so.

He drew the attention to Article 68, saying it even prevented the Parliament from criticising the judiciary and its decisions.

“A person dissatisfied at a verdict should file a review petition,” he added.

After hearing arguments of the both sides, the bench reserved the verdict for a while and then assembled again and announced it.

The court placed a 15-day ban on speeches deemed to be contemptuous and directed Pemra to strictly monitor the content and ensure that no television channel should broadcast contemptuous speeches.

Interestingly, Pemra at present is going without a regular head after Absar Alam was dismissed as its chairman by the Supreme Court for not meeting the necessary qualifications for the post.

Munir Ahmad, Amna Malik and a number of other citizens had moved the court against contemptuous speeches by the PML-N.

It is the fourth full bench which decided the case as earlier three benches got dissolved due to different reasons.

Following the Panama Papers judgment which led to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification as premier, he and other PML-N leaders have drawn ire for their criticism of the judiciary.

Multiple petitions have been filed in different courts against them over alleged contempt of court. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and federal and provincial ministers of the PML-N have also been made respondents in the petitions.

In January, the Islamabad High Court had accepted a contempt of court petition against Nawaz and his daughter Maryam for making speeches critical of the judiciary.

The Supreme Court, however, dismissed multiple contempt of court petitions against the ousted prime minister last month, saying on one occasion: “Commenting cleanly on a [court] decision is the right of every citizen.”

PML-N President and Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on his elder brother and party Quaid Nawaz Sharif at Jattiumra yesterday.

According to media reports, MNA Hamza Shahbaz and Maryam Nawaz also joined the meeting which discussed the restriction imposed by the Lahore High Court on the telecast of PML-N leaders’ derogatory speeches.

Reports say the meeting participants also shared views view on challenging the LHC decision in the Supreme Court.

It was discussed how much the decision will impact the PML-N movement with the motto ‘vote ko izzat do’ in near future. The meeting also discussed the political situation and other matters relating to the party.

 

 

LHC bans PML-N’s

‘anti-judiciary’ speeches

 

FIDA HUSSNAIN