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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has been urged to declare that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has no jurisdiction to inquire into or investigate the so-called “explicit and malicious campaign against Hon judges of Supreme Court of Pakistan” or “derogatory remarks against the superior judiciary”.

The Press Association of Supreme Court (PAS) and the Islamabad High Court Journalists Association (IHCJA), on Wednesday, filed a petition under Article 184(3) of the constitution through advocate Salahuddin Ahmed and cited the Federation and the FIA as respondents.

The PAS and the IHCJA also requested the Court to declare that the FIA notices to the journalists are in violation of Articles 19, 19-A, 175, and 204 of the Constitution and ultra vires PECA 2016, and strike down the Federation’s notification dated 16.1.2020.

The court reporters’ associations submitted that several of their members have received FIA notices. They said freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any democratic state governed under the rule of law. It is not merely a liberty inhering in the citizens of a free state. It is both an essential prerequisite to the meaningful exercise of the right to vote and a check against abuse or misuse of power by state institutions.

The power to punish for scandalization of a judge or the judiciary – so cautiously and sparingly exercised by the Supreme Court itself – cannot be handed over to the FIA to be used as and when it deems fit. That would allow the executive to destroy freedom of speech. Moreover, it would violate the doctrine of separation of powers.

When the FIA takes over the duties of enforcing contempt laws by misusing of PECA 2016, journalists are often deprived of fair hearing or bail by trial courts which may be influenced by the matter pertaining to the apex court.

The federal government on 16.1.2024 constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) under Section 30 of PECA 2016 comprising, (i) Additional Director General (Cyber Crime Wing) FIA; (ii) Representative of IB (not below BS-20); (iii) Representative of ISI (not below BS-20); (iv) DIG ICT Police; (v) Representative of PTA (not below BS-20), and (vi) Any other co-opted member.

On 25.1.2024, the FIA issued notices under section 160 CrPC to various persons in relation to numerous inquiries registered in different FIA Cyber Crime Reporting Centres [‘CCRC’] all over Pakistan. The gist of allegations specified in the notices is “[e]xplicit and malicious campaign against Hon. Judges of Supreme Court of Pakistan” and “derogatory remarks against the Superior Judiciary of Pakistan”. No further particulars are given nor it is mentioned what was allegedly stated by the persons to whom such notices are addressed.

According to the media reports, a total of 65 notices have been issued to various persons (including more than 30 journalists) pursuant to no less than 115 inquiries registered in different FIA CCRCs including Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Multan, Faisalabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi, Gilgit, Islamabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Quetta, and Gwadar.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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