Court defers framing of charges against media personnel, with Justice Minallah saying these will be considered later
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday indicted former Gilgit-Baltistan chief justice Rana Shamim in a contempt of court case for alleging in an affidavit that former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar had attempted to influence proceedings against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz.
While announcing the charges, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said a decision on charges against media personnel involved in the case—Ansar Abbari, who reported on the development for daily The News, and Jang Group owner Mir Shakilur Rehman—had been “temporarily” deferred. Last year, The News published a report on Shamim’s affidavit, summarizing the contents of his disclosure.
The affidavit, recorded in the U.K., alleged that former CJP Saqib Nisar had instructed a subordinate judge to ensure that the Sharif duo remained incarcerated until after the 2018 general elections. “Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz Sharif must remain in jail until the general elections are over. On assurances from the other side, he [Nisar] became calm and happily demanded another cup of tea,” the report had quoted Shamim’s affidavit as saying.
Shortly after the report’s publication, the IHC chief justice had taken notice and initiated contempt proceedings. In addition to Shamim, Abbasi and Rehman, The News editor Aamir Ghauri was also named in the case.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Justice Minallah said that charges would be framed prior to any further testimony. He reiterated that the issue was not of freedom of expression, but rather disrespect of the court. “A perception is being created specifically regarding this court. What sort of perception is this that the judges of this court are compromised?” he said, questioning if any order had been issued since July 2018 that had negated the belief of judicial independence.
“The article is not related to Saqib Nisar but it has to do with this court,” he said, stressing that the media’s role was secondary, as the initial allegations were voiced by Shamim. However, he noted, the media should reconsider its editorial policies and secure legal opinions prior to publishing any “sensitive” reports that relate to the judiciary.
After Justice Minallah allowed him the opportunity to present arguments of his petitions, Shamim said that he had filed two petitions, with one requesting a fact-finding inquiry into the case and the other seeking the removal of the attorney general as the prosecutor. He stressed that former CJP Nisar’s reply should also be made part of the inquiry, maintaining that criminal contempt cannot be proved unless the facts of his affidavit have been proven false.
The court proceeded to reject Shamim’s petitions and indicted him, with Justice Minallah reading out the charges related to the affidavit. To a question by Justice Minallah if he had accepted the charges, Shamim said that he agreed with some aspects, and disagreed with others. To this, Justice Minallah asked Shamim if he was admitting his mistake. Shamim replied that he was not.
The proceedings would resume on Feb. 15, which has been set as the next date of hearing.