SC directs FIA to withdraw notices issued to journalists

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on Monday to immediately withdraw the notices issued to journalists in the matter pertaining to a “malicious campaign” against the judiciary and the institutions on social media.

The suo motu notice against the harassment of journalists by FIA was heard by a three-member bench of the apex court presided by Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa.

CJP Isa told Attorney General of Pakistan Mansoor Awan that while verbal abuse was a different matter, the federal agency should not take action against media persons merely on criticism. The AGP in turn, assured the CJP that no action will be taken against the journalists.

The chief justice remarked that he is strongly against curtailing criticism as freedom of the press is enshrined in the Constitution. “I don’t care if you make fun of me, but if you make fun of the judiciary, the country will suffer. You can criticise the Supreme Court, but the Constitution also has some limitations,” he said.

“If you think that you are benefiting me or the Supreme Court by stopping criticism, then you are harming [the institution],” CJP Isa remarked.

He added that journalists are allowed to criticise court decisions, but the matter of incitement is different. “We can never restrain a common man or a journalist from criticising.”

Justice Musarrat Hilali remarked that fair criticism is not a problem but the language used is wrong.

CJP Isa said that the use of foul language is wrong but criticism is not prohibited, adding that it is wrong to arrest a journalist just for criticising.

“I don’t care, but there should be limits. We will also give rights to those who are not present here. I welcome criticism of myself.” he said.

Journalist Matiullah Jan asked the bench to set the date for the suo-motu hearing on Arshad Sharif’s murder, the CJP replied that the might be scheduled at the next hearing.

The chief justice also remarked that along with hate speeches, some other incidents also happen only in Pakistan, highlighting the killing of polio workers, and attacks on girl schools.

“Why does the government not do anything against extremist thinking? Why aren’t those who prevent women from voting and polio inoculation caught? Look at what happened in Jaranwala, everything is the result of hatred, these people have been used, and now they have become pythons, why did they not arrest the person who gave the fatwa to prevent women from voting?” said CJP Isa.

Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar stated, “If the media wants to create a code of conduct, then tell me whose help is needed?”

“Earning money through abuse has become a source of livelihood for people, it is very sad,” remarked Justice Hilali.

The CJP then inquired from the AGP about the status of journalist Asad Toor’s case and was informed that a case had been lodged. Justice Isa then asked Toor if he could recognise the accused.

“If the accused come forward, I can recognise them. The accused kept using mobile phones at my apartment but geofencing was not done,” said Toor.

The CJP then inquired why were the sketches and fingerprints of the accused were not shared with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). “Is Asad Toor’s case even active, or has it been moved to the mortuary?”

Justice Isa said Toor should be provided with basic rights, regardless of whether the case proceeded or not.

“There is no pressure on me, when the application was filed in 2021, I understood that Matiullah Jan was also with me, the procedure in which the application was made in the courtroom is not correct.” The chief justice also expressed displeasure with the manner of receiving the application.

Following these remarks, the court adjourned the hearing till Tuesday.

The FIA cybercrime wing on Saturday summoned 65 people, including various journalists and social media activists, for allegedly running a “malicious campaign” against the judges and the institutions on Jan 30 and 31.

After the decision of the SC against the PTI intra-party elections, which stripped it of its iconic electoral symbol – the cricket bat, a malicious campaign against the judges and the institutions was reportedly launched on social media.

Journalists and social media activists who have been issued notices include journalists Cyril Almeida, Shaheen Sohbai, Adeel Mahmood Raja, Syed Samar Abbas, Asad Ali Toor, Matiullah Jan, Muhammad Siddique Jan and Muhammad Sabir Shakir.