ISLAMABAD: The Islam­abad High Court (IHC) on Monday lifted a ban on the live coverage of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chair­man Imran Khan’s spee­ches, observing that the Pak­is­tan Electronic Media Regula­tory Authority (Pemra) invo­ked wrong sections of the law while prohibiting the broadcast.

On Aug 20, while addressing a public gathering in Islamabad to express solidarity with party leader Shahbaz Gill, who is imprisoned in a sedition case, Mr Khan had lashed out at the Islamabad police over alleged torture on Mr Gill and warned the judge, who sent the leader on physical remand, of dire consequences. Soon after the rally, Pemra banned live broadcast of the PTI chief’s speeches on television, and a case was also registered against him.

On Monday, Mr Khan petitioned the IHC against the ban through his counsel Barrister Syed Ali Zafar. Arguing before the court, the counsel pointed out that Pemra invoked sections 26 and 27 to impose a ban on live coverage of the PTI chairman’s speeches. He said these sections could not be invoked in this case, as they empowered the regulator to ensure broadcast of suitable content.

Even otherwise, since Section 26 entailed penal consequences, the regulator was under an obligation to serve a prior notice to Mr Khan before banning broadcast of his live speeches.

IHC CJ asks PTI counsel how threatening language against judge could be justified; Imran holds live telethon

Mr Zafar informed the court that the former premier intended to participate in a live telethon to raise funds for flood-affected people.

Justice Minallah inquired from the counsel the reason that led to a ban on Mr Khan’s speech. He replied that on Aug 20, the PTI chairman had warned the Islamabad inspector general of police, deputy inspector general and Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry of consequences for sending Mr Gill on a two-day physical remand.

The IHC chief justice expressed displeasure over the remarks against the judge and called it unacceptable. “How can you justify such threatening language against a judge of the lower court, which is an important tier of the judicial system?” Justice Minallah asked the counsel.

Barrister Zafar argued that it was a reaction from Mr Khan on the alleged torture on Mr Gill.

Justice Minallah observed that the worst form of torture was enforced disappearances, and reminded the counsel that the IHC had sent a number of cases of missing persons to the previous PTI government, but to no avail. He remarked that in case the party was keen to probe the allegations of torture, it could have been done in a proper manner.

The counsel replied that since the IHC had already initiated contempt proceedings against Imran Khan, he would submit his response on the date fixed for hearing.

Arguing against Pemra’s directive, Zafar said it was issued without observing the principles of procedural fairness. He drew the court’s attention to Pemra’s prohibition order and termed it ultra vires articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution as well as Pemra Ordinance 2002.

Justice Minallah observed: “Without commenting on the said objectionable portion [of the speech], it prima facie appears that the authority has issued the impugned order in excess of jurisdiction vested in it and without having regard to the constitutional rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution.”

He further observed that “a plain reading of Section 27 [of Pemra Ordinance] also prima facie shows that it does not empower the authority to issue a blanket prohibition order. Moreover, the prohibition order appears to be in violation of the principle of proportionality”.

The court noted that TV channels were required to observe the prescribed procedure regarding the time-delay mechanism. Failure on the part of the licensees to violate the prescribed procedure, prima facie, could have been made a ground for issuance of the impugned prohibition order.

Subsequently, the court suspended Pemra’s directive and issued notices to the regulator and the attorney general. Further hearing in this matter was adjourned till Sept 5.

Imran’s telethon

Meanwhile, PTI chief Imran Khan held a telethon that provided direct access to national and international callers to pledge funds for the support of flood victims. Senator Faisal Javed was the moderator of the telethon.

Mr Khan said he had participated in flood relief activities when the country was ravaged in 2010, and according to his estimates the current floods were worse than that. He said bank accounts had been opened in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab to collect funds that would be spent transparently under a committee.

At the time of going to print, ARY News reported the telethon had secured Rs5bn in pledges.

Ikram Junaidi also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2022

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