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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) said independence and freedom of the press do not give license to a journalist or a publisher to prejudice subjudice proceedings and obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice.

A single bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah, on Saturday, issued its written order of the January 7 contempt proceedings regarding publishing news on the pending case in the IHC. The written order said it will continue to uphold the two most important fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution. But simultaneously, it is also the duty of the Court to protect the rights of the litigants and the confidence of the people in the administration of justice.

It, prima facie, appears from the news report published by the alleged contemnor during pending judicial proceedings, that they are not familiar with the “subjudice rule” nor that they had taken reasonable care by obtaining legal opinion.

This is also manifested by news reports published in The News International and Daily Jang by the alleged contemnors during and relating to the proceedings in hand. They have published news reports regarding opinions of national and international entities/ organisations relating to these contempt proceedings.

Freedom of expression is not an ‘absolute’ right: IHC

Liberty and independence of the press are of utmost importance because it guarantees the independence of the judiciary and ensures the enforcement of other fundamental rights. It is not absolute and definitely does not license a journalist or publisher of a widely circulated newspaper to prejudice subjudice proceedings and obstruct or interfere with the administration of justice.

The court said if the stance of the reporter, editor, and the editor-in-chief is accepted then the “subjudice rule” would not only become redundant, but the court would be licensing widely-circulated newspapers to recklessly publish contents of a document that could be false and tend to influence the outcome of the pending proceedings.

It noted that the stance of the reporter, editor, and editor-in-chief does not appear to be in consonance with the established international best practices in the profession of journalism in the context of the “subjudice rule”. Their stance is inherently contradictory and not in the public interest. However, they have been adamant in their stance, which is violative of the “subjudice rule” and tends to undermine the confidence of the people, particularly the litigants in the administration of justice.

The court had directed the alleged contemnors to appear on 20th January 2022 for framing of charges.

The court in the last hearing had deferred the indictment of former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Rana Shamim and the journalists in contempt of court for publishing a controversial affidavit.

The IHC had already issued show-cause notices to Shakilur Rehman, Editor in Chief, Aamir Ghouri, Editor, Ansar Abbasi, and Rana Mohammad Shamim, former Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan after the publication of a news item claiming that Rana Shamim executed an affidavit in which he leveled allegations against former Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar.

The IHC chief justice had told Abbasi that they have received his application about a clerical error in the order. He questioned what clerical error is there in the order? The journalist replied that in the order, the court had quoted him as saying that even if a claim was wrong, he would publish it in the interest of the masses.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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