Legal Assistance sought by SC on LHC ban on Altaf’s speech

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court sought on Friday legal assistance to decide if the Sept 7 media blackout of MQM chief Altaf Hussain ordered by the Lahore High Court still held the field when it had not been extended.A two-judge bench headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan decided to seek legal opinion because the ban under Order 39 Rule 2A of the Civil Procedure Code was only for 15 days and the subsequent high court orders are silent about the fate of the interim order since nothing was said about it afterwards.The LHC had ordered the authorities to ban every kind of media coverage of the MQM chief, including his images and videos. Petitioners before the high court had sought the ban on the grounds that Mr Hussain’s objectionable speeches and anti-state slogans did not fall within the ambit of the freedom of speech.In his appeal filed in the Supreme Court, the MQM chief, who lives in London, had sought the suspension of the operation of the high court order because it was without any jurisdiction and lawful authority and violated the right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution.

“This question requires replies from the respondents, therefore issue notice to the respondents,” Justice Ejaz Afzal said while dictating an order after Friday’s hearing.Mr Hussain has named as respondents Advocate Sardar Ahmed Virk, who initially went to the high court, the prime minister through his principal secretary Javed Aslam and secretaries of the cabinet, interior, defence, law and information as well as the Senate chairman and National Assembly speaker.LHC verbal order: At the outset, the court asked rights activist Asma Jahangir, appearing on behalf of Altaf Hussain, if the high court in its succeeding orders of Sept 18 till Oct 16 had ever extended the gag order.The counsel read out different orders and said the high court stated nothing about extending the stay when usually the life of a stay under relevant rules was only for a fortnight. However, she added, the high court had stated in a verbal order that the ban be lifted provided her client tendered an apology for his statements.

Later the high court also summoned head of MQM’s Rabita Committee Farooq Sattar who cited three television interviews in which Mr Hussain had explicitly expressed regrets on the words that were misunderstood and also stated that the party believed in protecting the integrity of the country and its citizens.Ms Jahangir regretted that the high court had issued show-cause to Pemra and sought a reply from the chairman of the Press Council of Pakistan, but did not directly restrain media houses from airing the speeches. Thus the gag order was issued in violation of Article 19 of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom of speech.But the apex court reminded the counsel that the right under Article 19 was available to citizens with certain restrictions that they would not utter anything against the glory of Islam and integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or against friendly relations with foreign states.

Ms Jahangir said the high court had sought a reply from Pemra regarding dual nationality of the MQM chief.In his petition, Mr Hussain argued that the high court had passed the ban order in haste and appeared to be under pressure by the commotion created by some lawyers in the court. He asked if the high court could pass an order without a fair trial by first deciding the questions of maintainability of the writ petitions and that too without hearing the parties whose fundamental right of expression and speech was taken away indefinitely.

The MQM chief also asked if the high court could issue directives to Pemra without giving the authority an opportunity to receive and hear the complaints of petitioners under section 8 of Pemra (Council and Complaints) Rules, 2010.On Friday, Mr Hussain withdrew an application seeking transfer of his case from the LHC to either the Sindh High Court or the Peshawar High Court.


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