The Islamabad High Court on Monday disposed of a petition challenging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) orders to ban the live telecast of PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s speeches as IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah raised concerns over the former prime minister’s statements passed at a rally in Faisalabad yesterday.
Imran on Sunday lashed out at the PPP and the PML-N — major coalition partners in the incumbent government — saying both parties were opposing snap elections because they wanted to “appoint an army chief of their choice” in November to save their skin in corruption cases.
“Was the statement given at a rally constitutional and right,” Justice Minallah asked as the court took up PTI’s petition today.
At the previous hearing, the IHC observed that the watchdog had “exceeded its authority” and suspended the ban on the live telecast of Imran’s speeches.
On August 20, while addressing a rally in Islamabad to express solidarity with party leader Dr Shahbaz Gill facing proceedings in a sedition case, Imran warned the judiciary against its “biased” attitude and warned judge Zeba Chaudhry who sent Gill on physical remand to brace for consequences.
Subsequently, a ban was imposed on the live broadcast of Imran’s speeches on television and a case was also registered against him.
During the hearing today, Justice Minallah asked Pemra’s lawyer whether the watchdog had taken any measure in this regard, saying that people in authority at times gave irresponsible statements.
The watchdog’s lawyer replied the authority issued a show-cause to ensure the implementation of the time-delay mechanism in live broadcasts. He said that Pemra’s orders were not aimed at a particular person.
The court, addressing the PTI’s lawyer, said that “let’s not make things difficult as your client also made irresponsible statements.”
Here, Barrister Ali Zafar said that Pemra took measures under the directions of the Supreme Court.
‘Bringing army’s morale down’
At one point during the hearing, referring to Imran’s statements at the Faisalabad rally, the IHC CJ asked: “How can you say in public whether an army chief is a patriot or not?”
Justice Minallah said that the armed forces personnel were getting martyred “and you [Imran] are bringing their morale down”.
He also asked the PTI counsel as to why [his party] was harming constitutional institutions. “You will only invite difficulties as a result of your statements,” he said.
The recent statement, the judge pointed out, did not even fall under Article 19 (freedom of speech) of the Constitution. How could you avoid a ban when such statements are given, he noted.
‘Game of thrones’
Meanwhile, in response to a query, Pemra’s counsel said the watchdog had put in place a strong time-delay mechanism and also issued notices.
“Do we put everything at stake for the game of thrones?” the IHC CJ asked.
He remarked that the court should not be expected to provide any relief in view of the things that were going on.
Justice Minallah asked the PTI counsel to undergo self-accountability, saying “do not expect relief from courts as it is the prerogative of courts.”
He stressed that every citizen was a patriot and no one had the right to “issue a certificate [of patriotism]”.
Subsequently, the court, in light of the rulings of the Supreme Court, asked Pemra to regulate Imran’s speeches and wrapped up the case.
In the petition, Imran had contended that the ban was illegal, unlawful, more than its jurisdiction, and contrary to the fundamental rights under the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973.
“The Impugned Notice in effect has prohibited all news channels from airing live speeches of the former Prime Minister Mr Appellant based on spreading hate speech and making provocative statements against state institutions and officers. It is submitted that no hate speech or any such statements were made against the state institutions during his speech which entails such penal consequences as notified in the Impugned Notice,” it had stated.
The PTI chief had argued that under the Pemra Ordinance, one-third of the total members of the watchdog were supposed to constitute a quorum for the meetings requiring a decision by the authority which comprised a chairman and 12 members [13 in all].
“It is submitted that according to the Pemra’s own press release, the meeting of the authority at which the impugned order was passed was presided over by the Chairman and 3 Members namely, Chairman FBR Muhammad Irshad, Member KPK Shaheen Habibullah, and Member Punjab Nargis Nasir.”
Furthermore, the petitionhad said that the ban was also a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution which states: “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and there shall be freedom of press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of Court (commission of) or incitement to an offence.”
It had also accused the order to be “driven out of vengeance”, adding that Pemra’s actions were illegal, invalid, and without lawful authority.
Hence, the petition had prayed that the watchdog’s ban should be declared illegal, without lawful authority.
Imran, who has alleged that Gill has been subjected to “sexual abuse” and “physical and mental torture” in custody, had lambasted police over the accusation and judge Chaudhry for allowing Gill’s remand at a rally in Islamabad on Saturday.
He had threatened to file cases against Islamabad’s inspector general of police and deputy inspector general of police and declared: “We won’t spare you.” He had then warned the judiciary against its “biased” attitude towards his party, saying that it should brace itself for the consequences.
The PTI chairperson had warned judge Chaudhry that she would also face dire consequences.
Subsequently, he was booked under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (punishment for acts of terrorism).