Scandalising the courts

The Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan has come under criticism in recent days. On Tuesday, the Lahore High Court Bar Association adopted a resolution demanding presidential references against CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and two other SC judges for allegedly violating the constitution by rescheduling the presidential elections. Then came another blow. Pakistan’s Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim resigned on Wednesday.

According to a report published in Dawn, the CEC saw the SC’s decision to reschedule the presidential elections as an “encroachment into the domain of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)” and an “attack on the independence of the ECP”. On top of that, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has been asked to appear before the SC today (August 2) to explain his remarks against the apex court. Khan had alleged in a press conference that the ECP and the judiciary played a role in rigging the general elections. The contempt notice says: “Prima facie, it seems that Imran Khan has started a deliberate campaign to scandalise the court and bring judges into hatred, ridicule or contempt.”

While one cannot predict what will happen in the court today, social media has erupted in an anti-CJ campaign, mainly orchestrated by PTI supporters. Many of Khan’s supporters want him to take a firm stand against the CJ and not offer an unconditional apology. On the other hand, some analysts are of the opinion that Khan will explain his position, express his disappointment at judicial decisions but will then say he respects the judges and never meant to defame the judiciary, and regrets any offence caused by his statement. Whatever happens in the court today remains to be seen but the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seems to have been vindicated at last. In the last few years, the SC was accused many a time of targeting the PPP government and its leadership. From disqualifying a democratically elected prime minister due to contempt of court to going on a witch-hunt in the case of Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, the judiciary’s decisions were seen as that of being biased. The PPP was isolated in the media and in public perception while the judiciary was hailed for its ‘heroic’ efforts to curb corruption but when the CJ’s son was accused of corruption by a local tycoon, the manner in which the case was dealt with raised doubts about the judiciary’s impartiality.

Many noted members of the legal fraternity who were part of the Lawyers’ Movement are now openly criticising the judiciary for its behaviour. One such lawyer, Babar Sattar, wrote a critical piece on the judiciary’s decision to hold the presidential elections on July 30th instead of the date given by the ECP, i.e. August 6. Reportedly, the SC has reprimanded Mr Sattar for his ‘utterances’. If a lawyer can come under flak for writing a critical op-ed piece, whither free speech? While the judiciary dominated ‘positive’ media headlines for the most part, whenever it came under criticism, it tried to muzzle the media. Last year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated: “Since Pakistan’s independent judiciary was restored to office in 2009, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and provincial high courts have repeatedly sought to prevent media criticism of the judiciary through threats of contempt of court proceedings, which can bring prison terms.” By chiding Mr Sattar and serving contempt notice to Imran Khan, the courts are preventing objective criticism. Instead of curbing freedom of expression, our esteemed lordships should introspect about the quality of justice they are dispensing.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


Popular posts from this blog

Religious extremism in Pakistan (Part V)

The myth of September 6, 1965

Freedoms and sport