ISLAMABAD     -   Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Monday said that a free and robust press was the backbone of a democracy and it served both as a conscience and as a mirror.  

He said, “Without a free press, democracy quickly descends into an empty word, with its principles reduced to hollow ideas. Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have always suppressed the press and imposed censorship.” 

Justice Isa expressed these views while addressing a ceremony after administering oath to the elected members of Press Association of Supreme Court Reporter, at the Supreme Court building.  

He said that how very different this country would have been if oaths were abided by. He said that judges, other constitutional office-holders, and the members of the armed forces were required to take oath as prescribed in the constitution.  

He mentioned, “In Pakistan freedom of press is stipulated as a Fundamental Right. The Fundamental Rights, enshrined in the Constitution are not favours which may be bestowed on the people. Violating Fundamental Rights is violation of the Constitution. Obedience to the constitutional is the inviolable obligation of every citizen, anyone curtailing it is an enemy of the people and of the Constitution, and must be held accountable.” 

Justice Faez said that when citizens fight for press freedoms, they fight for their own rights. “If the people surrender their right to free speech and expression or permit the censorship of the press it will not be long before other guaranteed freedoms are taken away. A free press is vital to disseminate the voice of the people,” he said. 

Justice Faez said it was also necessary to expose injustice, wrongdoing, corruption and highhandedness. “Almighty Allah also enjoins that we speak up against injustice, wrongdoing and corruption, to countenance restrictions on free speech and expression offends an essential article of the Islamic faith.” 

He said during the premiership of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan signed and bound itself to the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pakistan had the distinction of being amongst the original 48 signatories to the Declaration, which has now been signed by 150 countries. Article 19 of this Declaration relates to press freedom. 

He said that Pakistan made an auspicious beginning, righteous commitment by Pakistan’s first elected Prime Minister 72 years ago. “Is this commitment and guarantee of a free press burning bright or is it being extinguished,” he questioned. 

He said that Reporters Without Frontiers publishes the World Press Freedom Index evaluating 180 countries and ranks them according to the prevalence of the press freedom. “Its rankings reveal that we are not living up to what Pakistan’s founders wanted as in 2017 and 2018 Pakistan stood at the very low 139th position in terms of Freedom Index, it then slipped to 142nd position in 2019 and then took the plunge to a shameful 145th position.” 

He said that Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a member of the Legislative Council stood before a foreign occupying power and spoke against the Press Act, which he said: “was a striking blow at the liberty of the press, which we all prize.” Jinnah called to protect those journalists who were doing their duty and who were serving both the public and the government by criticizing the government, freely, independently, honestly – which was an education for any government.