The Supreme Court of Pakistan has issued summons for the chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) following allegations of “media coercion” during the 2017 Faizabad sit-in.
The summon was initiated by a three-member bench of the apex court, led by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, and including Justice Aminuddin Khan, and Justice Athar Minallah.
The hearing, part of a series of nine review petitions against the Supreme Court’s February 6, 2019 verdict on the Faizabad sit-in case, was marked by significant developments.
Authored by Justice Isa years before he took oath as the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP), the searing judgement had instructed the defence ministry and the tri-services chiefs to penalise personnel under their command who were found to have violated their oath.
Notably, the court addressed the allegations made by Justice Isa in a prior judgment, emphasizing the importance of upholding the Constitution and the rule of law.
Former PEMRA chairman, Absar Alam, alleged that the then-Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), General Faiz Hamid, and his subordinates exerted undue influence on media policies.
In his written reply, Alam said, PEMRA officials were under pressure from “serving officers”, adding that he himself “received calls” from the then DG(C) Major General (retd) Hamid and or his subordinates complaining that their requests were not acceded to by him.
“The Applicant-in-Person had been asked to: i) to take action against Najam Sethi a prominent senior journalist; and ii) to completely blackout Hussain Haqqani from TV Channels, however, both illegal/unlawful demands remained unmet,” read the affidavit, seen by Geo News.
According to the ex-Pemra chairman, Gen (retd) Hamid and or his subordinates “controlled TV Channel policy through illegal/unlawful means by changing their numbers and moving them at the tail end, when they refused to follow instructions”.
He further said that the situation became “untenable” in April 2017, adding that he addressed the matter in writing to then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, then-chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and then-Chief of Army Staff General (retd) Qamar Bajwa, to inform that due to grave threats by unknown persons to Pemra officials for not following instructions fear had paralysed the latter.
Chief Justice Isa, expressing concern over the government’s handling of the matter, noted that the investigation committee formed by the government was inadequate.
The fact-finding committee was constituted by the government, on Friday, to investigate the “role and directions” of all “concerned” officials in the management and handling of the sit-in in 2017.
During the hearing today, Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa said the apex court wanted to know who was behind the Faizabad sit-in.
“We want to know who was the mastermind of the Faizabad sit-in,” he remarked, expressing annoyance over the decision not being implemented since its issuance on February 6, 2019.
“Our job is to order, and your job is to implement,” he stressed, underlining the need for a comprehensive and transparent inquiry.
In response to these developments, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s fact-finding committee, urging the Attorney-General for Pakistan, Mansoor Usman Awan, to swiftly form a new inquiry commission to ensure the implementation of the court’s verdict on the Faizabad sit-in case.
The Faizabad sit-in, which occurred in 2017, disrupted daily life in Islamabad for 20 days, resulting in six casualties and numerous injuries.
The sit-in was organized by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to protest alleged modifications to the Khatm-i-Nabuwwat oath during the passage of the Elections Act 2017, later rectified by an act of Parliament.