–Verdict in Faizabad sit-in case states intelligence agencies, ISPR do not have authority to impede with media broadcasts, disapproves of ‘cash handouts from men in uniform’
–Verdict declares state must be ‘impartial, fair’, notes protesters who impede with civil life ‘should be proceeded against’
–Rebukes PEMRA for ‘abdicating its duties’, orders ECP’s duties are ‘not optional’
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday directed law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies and the armed forces not to act beyond their mandate while wrapping up a suo motu case pertaining to the three-week-long Faizabad protest that had paralysed the federal capital in 2017.
Though the verdict, penned by Justice Qazi Faez Isa was not read out in court, the court told reporters to access it from the Supreme Court website.
In its verdict, the court directed the federal and provincial governments to monitor those advocating hate, extremism and terrorism and prosecute the perpetrators in accordance with the law. Besides, it told the police and law enforcement agencies to come up with a “flexible standard plans and procedure” to handle [such] protests in future.
It also ordered the government ─ through the Defence Ministry and respective chiefs of the armed forces ─ to initiate action against armed forces’ personnel found to have violated their oath.
Further, it notes that “when TLP’s dharna participants received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of their involvement gained traction. The director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (“ISPR”) has also taken to commenting on political matters”.
It may be mentioned here that Punjab Rangers Director General Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen giving envelopes containing 1,000 rupees notes to participants in the protests. “This is a gift from us to you,” the general is heard telling one bearded man. “Aren’t we with you too?”
The court criticised the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) for acting beyond their mandate.
The verdict asserts that the state must “act impartially and fairly” in all cases and bars “intelligence agencies and the ISPR” from exceeding their mandates for they “do not have the authority to interfere with broadcasts and publications, in the management of broadcasters/publishers and in the distribution of newspapers”.
“The Armed Forces, and all agencies manned by the personnel of the Armed Forces serve Pakistan, and thus all its citizens. They must never be perceived to support a particular political party, faction or politician,” it read, adding that if any “employee…indulges in any form of politicking or tries to manipulate the media he undermines the integrity and professionalism of the Armed Forces”.
The verdict notes that “every citizen and political party has the right to assemble and protest provided such assembly and protest is peaceful” but protesters who “obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against in accordance with the law”.
He also alluded to ISI’s reply to the court it was beyond its mandate to collect tax data of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), saying, “Intelligence agencies should 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.”
Referring to TLP’s party registration, the detailed verdict notes that “the Election Commission [ECP] is a constitutional body and it shall ensure that ‘the election is conducted honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against.
ECP can file a reference against any party “that is foreign-funded or that appears to hurt the integrity of Pakistan, or indulging in terrorism”, it adds.
However, while ECP “confirmed that TLP did not account for its funds and election expenses, but, surprisingly, professes its helplessness because the law according to it is “cosmetic in nature”, hence the verdict asserts, “the responsibilities placed on the ECP by the Constitution and the law must be fulfilled, they are not optional.”
“A person issuing an edict or fatwa, which harms another or puts another in harm’s way, must be criminally prosecuted under the Pakistan Penal Code, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 and/or the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016,” it adds.
The verdict also held the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) for doing “nothing to protect the interests of its licencees when broadcasts of Geo and Dawn were disrupted” and for not taking corrective action against “those cable operators who were responsible”.
Moreover, the verdict states that PEMRA also did not take action under the PEMRA Ordinance against any of its licensees for violating the terms of their licenses for “ISI’s report identified a private TV channel as supporting TLP and stated that its owners had supplied food to the protesters” and in doing so, abdicated its constitutional duty.
Referring to Karachi carnage on May 12, 2007 that set a precedent for such protests, the verdict states: “When the State failed to prosecute those at the highest echelons of government who were responsible for the murder and attempted murder of peaceful citizens on the streets of Karachi on 12th May, 2007 it set a bad precedent and encouraged others to resort to violence to achieve their agendas.”
The verdict also set parameters for the future protests, saying: “Every citizen and political party has the right to assemble and protest provided such assembly and protest is peaceful and complies 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 the property.”
Commenting on the delicate context that led to the affairs of the 2017 protest, the verdict states that “the Constitution does not permit ‘the glory of Islam’ to be denigrated. When a mob abuses, threatens and resorts to violence ostensibly in the name of Islam it does exactly this. True believers abhor such conduct.”
In November 2017, the top court had taken a suo motu notice against Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TTP) sit-in protest in Faizabad.
Earlier, notices regarding the verdict were been issued to the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP), Islamabad inspector general of police (IGP), secretary interior, secretary defence, and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) secretary.
It is vital to mention here that the SC had taken up the case for hearing with reference to the TLP protest, party registration, violent protests, the role of state institutions, and incidents that happened during the protest.
A two-member bench of the apex court comprising Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mushir Alam had reserved the judgment on Nov 22 in respect of the Faizabad sit-in case.
The TLP had staged a long sit-in at Islamabad Faizabad interchange due to which routine life in the federal Capital had been affected badly and several people lost their lives.