PAKISTAN: Attack on independence of judiciary is now extended to freedom of expression and information

In the midst of the judicial crisis the government has opened yet another front in the hopes of exercising damage control in an attack on a television station that has been airing open discussions on the latest developments with regard to the political situation and also the judicial crisis.

For the past several weeks the AAJ Television station has been airing discussion programmes and talk shows on various issues including the latest situation to arise out of the country’s judicial crisis. This television station has now been issued with a Show Cause Notice by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Sindh Region) (PEMRA), a central government agency, informing the management of this station that they have violated four clauses of the PEMRA code of conduct which denies any party the right to criticize the government. The management of AAJ Television has been given three days to show cause as to why they should not be prosecuted.

Political leaders, lawyers and experts on different disciplines including representatives of the government have been taking part in the programmes which have received wide audience participation. Various opinions were expressed during the broadcasts which allowed each participant to have a say.

The action by PEMRA is male fide in that out of the four charges only one pertains to the technical aspect of the broadcast and the remaining three are political in nature and a direct interference in the freedom of expression of any media agency. It is quite evident that the government is unhappy and irritated with the openness with which AAJ has allowed various opinions to be aired.

Discussing the independence of the judiciary is a matter on which society has a paramount concern and an attack on the Chief Justice is of such gravity that society cannot expect to be able to safeguard its basic rights without getting involved in his defense. Having discussions or debates on the rule of law and constitutional matters is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan and no party, be they pro or anti state has the right to refuse any other party permission to express their views. This is an unalienable right guaranteed not only by the Constitution but by international norms and standards.

The Asian Human Rights Commission expresses concern of this action by the government of General Musharaff through PEMRA as a ploy to avoid their responsibility in the crisis that they themselves have created by making the Chief Justice of the country, Mr. Iftekhar Choudry non-functional. Furthermore, this is a blatant attempt by the government to curtail media freedom and freedom of expression.

The government appears to have lost all rationale in dealing with this crisis and must get back on track by taking the first step of reinstalling the Chief Justice. Secondly they must retract their Show Cause Notice served on AAJ television.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-086-2007
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Judicial system,