ISLAMABAD    -  While hearing a petition challenging Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) order to ban speeches, interviews and public addresses by proclaimed offenders, Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Justice Athar Minallah Thursday observed that the court cannot grant relief to any absconder.

Justice Athar added that if an absconder does not have trust in courts then how he could be benefitted from the judicial system. He further said that it is not in the interest of the people at large if relief is given to any absconder.

The IHC Chief Justice made these observations while debating over the maintainability of the petition filed by the petitioners including Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Vice Chairman Pakistan Bar Council, eminent human rights activists and senior journalists from all over the country who 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.

During the hearing, Justice Athar observed that if the court threw out PEMRA’s order then all the absconders would get the right to go on air. He asked that do you want to seek permission to air the speech of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf. Raja said that the appeal was not about an individual.  He asked from the petitioners counsel Salman Akram Raja that who would be benefitted from the court’s order in this regard. He added that for whom you are seeking the relief. At this, Raja said that they were seeking the relief for the public interest.  Justice Athar said that the court had ruled, in a previous case related to former dictator Gen (Retd) Pervez Musharraf that no relief could be granted to a fugitive. He asked that which person was banned by the PEMRA. He added that the authority has not passed an order against any person and an appeal could be filed under Section 31 against the said order of the PEMRA. 

The court remarked that two people were affected by the PEMRA’s order and the affected parties were not present. At this juncture, Salman Akram said that instead of two persons, thousands of other people were also affected due to this order.  The IHC bench further said that only the people affected by the ban can challenge PEMRA’s order. However, he added that a proclaimed offender cannot even challenge any order. He further said that to be a fugitive is a serious issue and remarked that the absconding suspects should first surrender themselves before the court and then take advantage of their legal rights. 

Raja argued that since PEMRA’s order is issued for media persons and journalists, therefore, they were the affected parties. He contended that the order had affected thousands of people, not just two people. He said the ban had affected the citizens’ right to information which had been granted by the Constitution. He maintained that Article 19 (A) gave the right to freedom of expression. 

The counsel adopted that the petitioners desire that they should not be stopped from relaying information to the public.  The IHC Chief Justice said that PEMRA’s order had stopped channels from airing speeches of proclaimed offenders and remarked that absconding suspects are discussed on the media daily. He added that freedom of expression is very important but here, the question is somewhat different. 

Justice Athar continued that this is a test for the entire judicial system. He asked that you want that relief be granted to all absconding suspects. He maintained that granting relief to an absconding suspect is not in the public interest. 

He continued that the petition would grant relief to all absconding suspects which the court does not want to give and asked the counsel to prepare arguments to convince the court to take up the petition for further hearing.  Later, the bench deferred hearing till December 16 for further proceedings in this matter.