EDITORIAL: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has pronounced the National Database and Registration Authority’s (NADRA’s) cancellation of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl’s (JUI-F’s) Maulana Hafiz Hamdullah’s Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) in 2019 arbitrary, reckless, illegal, without jurisdiction, and contrary to the basic right of citizenship enshrined in the Constitution without considering the profound consequences of such a decision. The IHC verdict has also shone a light on similar actions by NADRA regarding citizens. The case pertains to NADRA’s October 2019 cancellation of Hafiz Hamdullah’s CNIC on the basis of intelligence reports, rejecting his documents presented as proof of his nationality as bogus and fraudulent. These documents showed Hamdullah was born in Chaman, Balochistan, and his father was employed in the education department in 1974. But NADRA dismissed these claims out of hand in deference to the information of sensitive state institutions and the executive. NADRA also wrote a letter to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on October 11, 2019, as a consequence of which PEMRA ordered all TV channels to bar Hafiz Hamdullah from any appearance on television. Since then, he and some other petitioners approached the IHC to reverse NADRA’s decision. Now the court has found in their favour and taken NADRA to task for its arbitrary cancellation of a citizen’s CNIC on the basis of intelligence reports. The IHC has interrogated NADRA during the proceedings on whether this is a regular practice. The IHC also ruled that PEMRA’s order was an obvious misuse of authority. Logically too, PEMRA’s stand held no water since even a non-citizen is not barred from TV. Further, it goes without saying that depriving any citizen of their CNIC amounts to revoking that person’s basic human right of citizenship as well as economic, political and social rights, all enshrined in the Constitution. The IHC has declared NADRA has no jurisdiction to initiate such proceedings. We hope this will be the last word on this illegal practice, reportedly in play at the behest of the executive over the years.
Of course the case of Hafiz Hamdullah is not hard to understand. Why he attracted the unwanted attentions of the agencies, the executive and NADRA is not difficult to surmise. In October 2019, Hafiz Hamdullah’s party, the JUI-F, was poised to launch an Azadi (Freedom) March on Islamabad against the sitting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) government, which the JUI-F contended had been imposed through rigging the 2018 general elections. Hamdullah had acquired the status of the JUI-F’s face on numerous TV shows where he argued his party’s case. Negotiations between the PTI government and the JUI-F regarding the ‘Azadi March’ proved inconclusive. With one stroke, the executive stripped Hamdullah of his birthright citizenship and also ‘silenced’ him as far as the electronic media was concerned. A more obvious political victimisation would be hard to imagine, as Hamdullah argued at the time. It is a matter of satisfaction that the IHC has restored sense, legality and citizens’ rights against an overweening executive which is expected to show better sense regarding the laws of the land and what it can or cannot be done within the framework of those laws. A wiser, more circumspect approach may have spared the executive the slap in the face administered by the IHC.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021