Pakistan’s top court has directed the government to take action against those who obstructed people’s right to use roads, damaged or destroyed property. The Supreme Court of Pakistan also directed the military top brass to take action against those military officers who violated their oath and distributed money among the protesters.
In a hard-hitting detailed judgement in the Faizabad sit-in case, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the intelligence agencies not to ignore those who promoted violence, hate and extremism and directed the federal government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The court issued the directions against the backdrop of the sit-in staged by the radical religious group, Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), that paralysed civic life in the federal capital and neighbouring Rawalpindi in November 2017. The verdict came on a suo motu hearing by Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the SC bench that took notice of the roadblock and traffic congestion caused by the TLP sit-in.
The apex court asked the federal government to monitor those advocating hate, extremism and terrorism and prosecute the perpetrators in accordance with the law. A person issuing an edict or fatwa that harmed another or put another in harm’s way must be criminally prosecuted under the Pakistan Penal Code, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 or the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, said the SC order. Similarly, the intelligence agencies should not ignore those who promote violence and hate, the order stated, adding that if the proponents of violent ideology and actions were not monitored and checked they often mutated against the state and terrorise the people.
“Those who resort to abuse, hate and violence should never be pampered, instead they should fear the state, its police and intelligence agencies,” observed the verdict authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
The verdict emphasised that the Constitution earmarked certain responsibilities to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that it must fulfil. “If a political party does not comply with the law governing political parties, then the ECP must proceed against it in accordance with the law, which is, most certainly not, cosmetic.”
According to the judgement, all political parties have to account for the source of their funds in accordance with the law and the state must always act impartially and fairly no matter if they are in government. When the state failed to prosecute those at the highest echelons of the government who were responsible for the murder and attempted murder of peaceful citizens on the streets of Karachi on May 12, 2007, it set a bad precedent and encouraged others to resort to violence to achieve their agendas, the verdict said.
The judgement also touched upon the complaints on part of TV channels and newspapers, the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) about interference in their broadcasts and the delivery of their publications.
“It seems that Dawn, the oldest English language newspaper of the country which was founded by Quaid-i-Azam, was targeted the most,” Justice Isa regretted, adding overt and covert censorship was unconstitutional and illegal. Nebulous tactics such as issuing advice of self-censorship to suppress independent viewpoints, to project ones, and to direct who should be hired or fired by media organisations was also illegal, the verdict added.
The judgement concluded that every citizen and political party had the right to assemble and protest provided they remained peaceful and complied with the law imposing reasonable restrictions in the interest of public order. The right to assemble and protest is circumscribed only to the extent that it infringes on the fundamental rights of others, including their right to free movement and to hold and enjoy property.
Similarly, it added, broadcasters who broadcast messages advocating or inciting the commission of an offence violated Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Ordinance and the terms of their licences and must be proceeded against in accordance with the law.
The SC observed that the cable operators who stopped or interrupted the broadcast of licensed broadcasters must be proceeded against by Pemra and if this was done on the behest of others, then Pemra should report it to the authorities concerned.
The bench asked the intelligence agencies to monitor activities of all those who threaten the territorial integrity of the country and all those who undermine the security of the people and the state by resorting to or inciting violence. “To best ensure transparency and the rule of law, it would be appropriate to enact laws which clearly stipulate the respective mandates of the intelligence agencies,” the verdict stated.
The court also reminded the armed forces of a constitutional restriction that prohibits their personnel from engaging in politicking and ordered the defence ministry and respective chiefs of the army, navy and air force to penalise the personnel found to have violated their oath.
When participants in the TLP’s dharna received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of the involvement of the intelligence agencies [in the activity] gained traction, the verdict regretted, highlighting that the armed forces and all agencies manned by the personnel of the armed forces, including Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), served Pakistan and thus all its citizens.
“The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the armed forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” Justice Isa explained in the judgement that he authored.
According to the verdict, the armed forces must never strengthen the perception about their support to a particular political party, faction or politician. Justice Isa observed that if any personnel of the armed forces indulged in any form of politicking or tried to manipulate the media, they undermined the integrity and professionalism of the armed forces. The duties of the armed forces were clearly spelt out in the Constitution to defend Pakistan, under the direction of the federal government, against external aggression or threat of war or act in aid of civil power when called upon, he recalled.
“We must not allow the honour and esteem due to those who lay down their lives for others to be undermined by the illegal actions of a few,” the SC verdict emphasised.
Tracing the history of ISI, Justice Isa said when institutions stayed within their designated constitutional boundaries and there was an effective system of checks and balances, citizens remained safe and the state prospered. Trouble started with self-proclaimed saviours who must be reminded that sovereignty belonged to Allah Almighty alone and the authority to be exercised was a sacred trust, said the SC verdict.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah visualised Pakistan to be based on the fundamental principles of democracy, not bureaucracy or autocracy or dictatorship, Justice Isa emphasised, adding the nation must hold steadfast to the Constitution.
The verdict also required police and other law-enforcement agencies to develop standard operating procedure and plans to handle rallies, protests, sit-ins and ensure that such plans/procedure were flexible enough to attend to different situations. And in the maintenance of law and order, the verdict expected, every effort would be taken to avoid causing injury and loss to life.
The judgement concluded with the quotes of Quaid-i-Azam who said he considered it his duty “to call upon the Muslims to temper their resentment with reason and to beware of the dangers which may well overwhelm our own state. It is of utmost importance that Pakistan should be kept free from disorder, because the outbreak of lawlessness… is bound to shake… its foundation and cause irreparable damage to its future”.
The bench asked the court office to dispatch copies of the judgement for information and compliance to the government through the federal cabinet secretary, defence, interior, human rights, religious affairs and interfaith harmony, information secretaries, the chief secretaries of the provinces, the ECP, Pemra, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Chief Commissioner, Islamabad.
Likewise, the defence secretary was directed to forward the judgement to the heads of the armed forces, the director general of the ISI, the ISPR and Military Intelligence. The interior secretary was directed to forward the judgement to the director general of Intelligence Bureau and Federal Investigation Agency as well as the IGPs of each province and the Islamabad Capital Territory. The information secretary was directed to forward the judgement to the directors of all press and information departments, who in turn were directed to forward it to all newspapers published in their territories.