KARACHI - Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) President Mujibur Rehman Shami and All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) President Hameed Haroon have, in a terse joint statement, expressed dismay over the “unlawful” conviction of Mir Shakeelur Rehman, editor-in-chief of Jang, Geo Media Group and Associated Media Persons, by an anti-terrorism court at Gilgit–Baltistan.

They termed this conviction to be incompatible with the press freedoms enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan and that the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment & Self-Governance) Order, 2009, under which the judicature of that territory has been set up, violates the fundamental rights guaranteed to all Pakistani citizens under the Constitution.  They say: “The unlawful conviction of media persons in Gilgit –Baltistan constitutes a major threat to the existence of a free press throughout the country.”

The joint statement further explains that while some fundamental rights have been guaranteed under the controversial order, two major fundamental rights enjoyed by the citizens of Pakistan under the 1973 Constitution are notably missing from this order – these being the fundamental rights enshrined in articles 10-A and 13 of the Constitution.

It may be noted that Article 10-A says that in any criminal charge, a person shall be entitled to a fair trial and due process. Article 13 says: “No person shall be prosecuted for the same offence more than once.” “Thus, if citizens of Pakistan, not physically present in the territory, were to be transported for trial from Pakistan to Gilgit-Baltistan for alleged offences, such persons would be denied two important fundamental rights.”

The presidents of CPNE and APNS have urged the prime minister to take immediate notice of this unacceptable and anomalous situation by appropriately modifying the Order 2009. “Under Article 31 of this controversial order, the executive authority of the government of Gilgit-Baltistan must be exercised to secure compliance with Pakistani laws, and this is a process that must be initiated immediately,” they asserted.

Under Article 34 of the order, the prime minister has the power to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court or tribunal of Gilgit-Baltistan. The CPNE and APNS chiefs have further urged the prime minister to exercise his powers to abolish the sentence awarded by the anti-terrorism court in Gilgit Baltistan, otherwise Pakistani journalists would always remain in fear of being dragged into criminal proceedings by a flawed dispensation in Gilgit-Baltistan on the flimsiest pretexts.