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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court, taking suo motu notice of journalists' harassment, issued notices to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), and summoned the agency's DG in-person with the entire original record of the cases against journalists.

A two-judge bench, headed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa and comprising Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhel heard the applications of Press Association of the Supreme Court and five working journalists, wherein, it is alleged large scale violations of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, and that the government and/or organisations/agencies under its control are primarily violating the rights.

The applicants state that journalists are harassed, intimidated, attacked and shot at, and there are no consequences for the perpetrators.

It is further alleged that those who should be protecting journalists and ensuring the freedom of the press, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution, are involved.

They also submitted a "Press Release", issued by the FIA stating that criminal cases have been registered against some journalists because they report against the judiciary.

However, the said "Press Release" does not disclose what was said against the judiciary.

The bench noted that the judges of the superior courts are mandated by the Constitution to ensure that fundamental rights are at all times guaranteed and enforced.

The said "Press Release" creates an impression that criminal cases were registered at the behest of the judiciary, and in doing so, it portrays the judiciary to be inimical to the guaranteed fundamental right of a free press.

It further noted that the FIA appears to have overstepped its legal mandate and to have undermined the peoples' confidence in the judiciary, which is the guarantor of the fundamental rights.

By such tactics, the respect, regard and confidence of the people in the judiciary may be undermined and the judiciary may also be disrespected and portrayed as standing with the FIA.

The Court order said the director general of FIA without whose authorisation the Press Release may not have been issued or who till date has not retracted it, be issued notice to disclose who authorised the issuance of the Press Release, and to submit his personal written explanation why he permitted its issuance mentioning the judiciary and if it was not issued by him then why did he not withdraw it.

The DG, FIA is also directed to be present in-person in Court along with the entire original record of the cases against journalists in respect of whom the Press Release was issued and is further directed to submit a complete list of cases filed against journalists, and such list should specify the actual content, that is transcript of the text, which the FIA deemed to constitute an offence.

The application also complains that journalists are not allowed to work freely and pursue their careers, which is a violation of Article 18 of the Constitution that guarantees right to enter upon any lawful "profession or occupation".

Therefore, if a media house/television channel is prevailed upon to sack any journalist because of his/her independent reporting it appears to violate Article 18 of the Constitution.

The chairman PEMRA is directed to submit his written response disclosing action taken against the media houses/television channels, which resort to such tactics.

It is stated that the Constitution in its Article 9 guarantees the right to one's liberty and Article 10 of the Constitution safeguards illegal arrests and detention. This matter becomes a matter of concern when the perpetrators are not arrested and, all the more so, when it happens under the cameras of the Safe City Project, Islamabad. Inability in this regard may suggest incompetence, which may constitute dereliction of duty, or far worse abetment, which is an offence. Therefore, notice be also issued to the Inspector General of Police of the Islamabad Capital Territory and the Ministry of Interior, Government of Pakistan, Islamabad through its secretary to separately submit their written replies under their respective signatures listing the number of attacks on journalists, the progress made in the investigation of the FIRs, including identifying the attackers, and whether the recordings from the cameras of the Safe City Project were used to trace out the perpetrators.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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