ISLAMABAD: The High Court of Islamabad has just opened a judicial investigation for contempt against two journalists of the daily The News International as well as its owner for having published the affidavit of a former judge highlighting a case alleged influence peddling. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the reversal of this arbitrary decision, which violates the fundamental principles of the rule of law in Pakistan.
In a statement published by RSF on Wednesday, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific bureau, Daniel Bastard, said that RSF calls on the Chief Justice of the High Court of Islamabad, Justice Athar Minallah, to seize the moment by lifting the charges against members of The News International staff immediately. Respect for freedom of the press and the independence of justice are at stake, two pillars of democracy are regularly threatened, he said.
“I checked my sources,” investigative journalist Ansar Abbasi said in an interview with RSF. Its ethical requirements were however ignored in the decision, pronounced this Tuesday, December 28, by the president of the High Court of Islamabad, Athar Minallah. The Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court has decided to open a court case for “contempt of court” against Ansar Abbasi, investigator of The News International daily, its editor, Amir Ghauri, and Mir Shakil- ur-Rahman, owner of Jang Media Group, which publishes the paper.
Ansar Abbasi simply filed an article, published on November 15, in which he reveals a statement made under oath by a former chief justice of Gilgit-Baltistan, Rana Shamim.
The latter claims to have heard the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, pressure one of his colleagues not to grant bail to several leaders of the opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) ahead of the 2018 general election. elections. “The information revealed by Ansar Abbasi and The News International highlights issues of general interest that are absolutely fundamental to the rule of law in Pakistan,” noted RSF Asia-Pacific bureau chief Daniel Bastard. The RSF press release, quoting the daily Dawn, adds that Ansar Abbasi attested, during Tuesday’s hearing, to having fully verified the veracity of its information and its sources: “Rana Shamim himself also [sent me a message] to tell me that what I had read was correct.”
The newspaper’s editor, Amir Ghauri is also being prosecuted in contempt proceedings. The third person implicated in this affair, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, who has already spent eight months in prison, before being finally released on bail in November 2020. At the time of his arrest, RSF had demonstrated the dimension perfectly spurious of the charge against him, the statement said.
Pakistan ranks 145th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index published in 2021 by RSF.
Meanwhile, the Freedom Network has expressed deep disappointment at the Islamabad High Court’s order bracketing three journalists with a former Gilgit-Baltistan judge to bring charges against them in a contempt case that Chief Justice Athar Minallah hears.
On December 28, 2021, the Chief Justice of the IHC ordered to press charges against the main alleged critic in addition to the three journalists who reported the affidavit that the former Chief Justice of Gilgit-Baltistan registered to accuse the former Chief Justice of Pakistan for allegedly ‘collaborating’ to deny bail to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif ahead of the 2018 general election.
“The Islamabad High Court’s order laying contempt charges against Group Editor Jang Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, The News International Editor Aamir Ghauri and Investigations Editor Ansar Abbasi makes no sense because these journalists have committed no crime in reporting the affidavit that exists and is confirmed by its author before the Honorable Chief Justice of the High Court of Islamabad,” Iqbal Khattak, Executive Director of Islamabad, said on Wednesday. media watchdog Freedom Network, in Press Freedom Alert published December 29, 2021.
“The court order will undermine press freedom in the country and set a bad precedent for investigative journalism. As the court is satisfied with the existence of the affidavit which was held and confirmed by its author, there is no justification for bringing charges against these journalists. »
Iqbal Khattak said that Ansar Abbasi, the editor and editor would have been guilty of unethical journalism if the affidavit had been fraudulent. “It’s not a crime to report such a high-level public interest document that the investigative editor found and checked before it was published,” he said.
The executive director of the Freedom Network hoped the IHC Chief Justice would consider the devastating impact the charges would have on free speech and urged him to reconsider his opinion of the media people in this case.
“The media is only the messenger in this case, not the hater and treating the media on an equal footing with the main alleged hater here will be, proverbially, like shooting the messenger, which will have negative repercussions on the already fragile state of media freedoms in Pakistan, which is ranked among the most dangerous countries to practice journalism,” he added.
“The media looks to the justice system for its support in the face of state and non-state attacks from all quarters over the past more than three years to uphold citizens’ right to know and access information,” said Press Freedom Alert.