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ISLAMABAD: The legal fraternity on Monday threw its support for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif, stating that his conviction does not restrict his fundamental rights, notably the right to freedom of expression.

Former president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Kamran Murtaza said it is Sharif’s right to express, publish, disseminate, relay and broadcast his views and that the opinion of any individual, including a convict, proclaimed offender or an absconder does not deprive him of his fundamental rights.

“Is a convict, proclaimed offender or absconder deprived of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution including the right to express”, he questioned.

Abdul Wali Khan Advocate said the constitution is above all laws, adding freedom of speech is an inalienable right of every citizen. “Freedom of speech is protected by the constitution,” he added.

Khan said if the government or Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) attempts to curtail freedom of speech of any individual, it will be illegal.

Referring to Article 19 of the Constitution, he said the government can only regulate the freedom of speech in matters relating to the security and integrity of the country.

This was supported by Samsam Ali, a Supreme Court lawyer, who also emphasized that freedom of speech is a constitutional right that cannot be curtailed.

Another lawyer Umer Gilani said the laws, governing what can and what cannot be aired by TV channels in Pakistan, is the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015 adding that none of the 24 articles of this code directly prohibit airing of statements by a convict or by a proclaimed offender.

Gilani further contended that Article 3(3) of the code prohibits the airing of statements by members of proscribed organisations, i.e. terrorist organizations, adding that no such prohibition can be found for other kind of convicts.

The incumbent president of SCBA Ahsan Bhoon, one of the participants at Asma Jehangir Conference in Lahore, said, “we respect the government’s point of view, but we also have our own point of view.”

However, Barrister Maleeka Bokhari, who is also parliamentary secretary for law and justice, stuck to her guns and said ‘it’s unfortunate and frankly undermining the memory of late Asma Jahangir, the judiciary and the legal system of Pakistan that a convicted criminal, absconder and a declared unfit to hold public office by apex court of the country was provided opportunity to address a human rights conference. “Politicizing human rights is unacceptable”, she maintained.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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