The judiciary had no choice but step in and protect the supremacy of the Constitution, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah said on Friday while referring to repeated criticisms—primarily from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and its sympathetic media—about it opening out of regular working hours on the night of April 9.
In various addresses to campaign rallies, ousted prime minister Imran Khan has repeatedly questioned why the IHC opened late at night, claiming he was not about to take any illegal actions. His rivals have hit back, informing him that his attempts to dissolve the National Assembly and prevent voting on the no-confidence motion against him were unconstitutional actions.
Hearing a petition filed by ARY News’ anchor Arshad Sharif complaining of harassment by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued instructions to both the agency and Islamabad’s inspector general of police “not to harass nor take any adverse action against the petitioner or other journalists relating to their professional duties and functions.”
However, the court noted that ARY had violated several constitutional provisions by launching a baseless campaign against the judiciary on primetime shows in light of the events of April 9. He noted that the channel appeared to be unaware that the court had entertained several petitions outside of regular working hours, adding that if it had bothered to check the record, it would know that the petition filed on the evening of April 9 was not entertained that night, and the petitioner had been fined for filing frivolous petitions a day later.
During proceedings, the chief justice observed that the military coups of 1977 and 1999 might have been prevented if the judiciary had taken notice of them outside of working hours. He regretted that ARY News had been participating in a campaign to malign the Supreme Court and the IHC in an attempt to erode the nation’s trust in the judicial system.
Justice Minallah asked the petitioner’s counsel whether any order was passed, or a petition entertained, on the evening of April 9 that might have prejudiced someone or interfered with proceedings of other constitutional bodies; they responded in the negative.
“In response to another query, it was regrettably conceded that it was not the policy of the channel to give air time to issues such as grave violation of fundamental rights of victims of enforced disappearances or the students of Balochistan,” read the court order, adding that ARY had launched an unconstitutional campaign against the judiciary.
“The systematic vilification campaign against the Supreme Court and this court without any basis or prejudice having been caused to any person has profound consequences for those litigants who are admittedly denied a voice by television channels in violation of their obligations under Articles 19 and 19-A of the Constitution,” it said and summoned the Islamabad bureau chief of ARY News to its next hearing on May 12 so he could “justify the systematic campaign against the august Supreme Court and this court [IHC].”