ISLAMABAD - A writ petition urging the court to decide can a convict, proclaimed offender or absconder be denied the right to express or the public-at-large be denied the right to receive as information the views and words expressed by that person has been filed before the Islamabad High Court (IHC). 

The petitioners included Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council, eminent human rights activists and the senior journalists from all over the country have prayed that the PEMRA Prohibition Order 01-10-2020 and Directive dated 27-05-2019 may be declared to be without lawful authority, of no legal effect and void ab initio. 

They also requested the court that the respondents be permanently restrained from directing and imposing prior prohibition with respect to expression or speech by a person. They also prayed that during the pendency of the instant petition the operation of the Prohibition Order 01-10-2020 and Directive dated 27-05-2019 be suspended. 

They submitted that the PEMRA orders are unconstitutional and illegal prohibitions have been imposed on the electronic media with respect of dissemination of information. “The prohibition is a constitutional wrong in the own right and amounts to nullifying the rights made available under Article 19-A of Constitution.” 

They raised question that can the State, or any agency or authority obstruct access to information by the public-at-large or the dissemination of such information by the petitioners as journalists and human rights defenders or by the electronic and print media in general? “Do the words spoken and the views expressed by a convict, a proclaimed offender or an absconder fall outside the ambit of the ‘information’ envisaged by Article 19A of Constitution? Can a convict, proclaimed offender or absconder be denied the right to express or the public-at-large be denied the right to receive as information the views and words expressed by the convict, proclaimed offender or absconder by way of information? 

The petitioners stated that the PEMRA has assumed the role of a censoring agency that seeks to curb cultural as well as political expression and speech, thereby denying to the citizens of Pakistan the fundamental rights of information, free speech and a free press guaranteed by the constitution. 

They continued that it is clear from a reading of Section 27 of PEMRA that a prohibition order may only be made with respect to a particular broadcast/re-broadcast or distribution of any programme or advertisement. What is not allowed is the prohibition of any speech based on the identification or classification of a person or a category of persons. 

They mentioned that the PEMRA can prohibit one speech on grounds listed in Section 27(a) of the Act but no power vests in the regulatory body to order prohibition of all speeches by any particular person or class of persons. The petitioners submitted that PEMRA does not have under law to issue the Prohibition Order date 01-10-2020 or the earlier Directive 27-05-2019.