The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday suspended the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) orders to ban the live telecast of PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s speeches.
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, after taking up the matter on an application filed by the former prime minister today, observed that the watchdog had “exceeded its authority” and directed Pemra to appoint an officer who could justify the ban in court.
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 the judge who sent Mr 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.
At the outset of the hearing today, Imran’s counsel Chaudhry told court that the PTI chairman was holding an international telethon to raise funds for the flood affectees tonight and was expected to collect a huge sum of money.
He then proceeded to read out loud the transcript of the ex-premier’s speech delivered on August 20 on court’s orders.
After Chaudhry was done, Justice Minallah asked him if he defended Imran’s comments. “Can judges be threatened like this,” he asked, recalling the human rights violations that took place in the last three years.
“I am saying this with a heavy heart that judges should not have been threatened. It is disappointing that the [incumbent] government is doing exactly what happened in the last three years,” he observed.
Justice Minallah pointed out that a woman judge was threatened. “Did your leader not say that he won’t spare her? If they had said something like this about me it would have been fine […] But a woman judge?”
Referring to Gill’s case, the IHC chief justice asserted that torture was unacceptable, but threatening a woman judge was unforgivable. “The entire matter has made Shahbaz Gill’s fair trial controversial,” he added.
At this point, Chaudhry said that the court had already issued a show-cause notice to Imran and a case had been registered against him as well.
The lawyer also stated that he had himself seen the torture marks on Gill’s body.
Meanwhile, Barrister Ali Zafar, another PTI lawyer, highlighted that Pemra says TV channels had not adopted the policy of time delay. “There is a 12-second time delay in which the channels can hear and omit controversial statements,” he explained
Justice Minallah inquired if all the channels ran speeches without time delays. “Then this means the responsibility falls on the channels and action should be taken against them,” he observed, adding that a ban could not be imposed on a person who wasn’t convicted.
He also regretted that police stations in Pakistan had a culture of torture, but none of the executives saw it as an issue.
Subsequently, the court suspended Pemra’s ban on Imran speeches and issued notices to the watchdog and its director. The hearing has been adjourned till September 5.
In the petition filed today, Imran 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 stated.
The PTI chief argued that under the Pemra Ordinance, one-thirds of the total members of the watchdog were supposed to constitute 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 petition 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 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 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).