CJ crisis: Gag order on ministers, media


Islamabad : The ballooning judicial crisis in Pakistan has prompted the government to bar ministers from speaking to journalists on the sacking of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, even as the media has been cautioned against maligning judges of the apex court.

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At a cabinet meeting Wednesday presided over by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, ministers were barred from speaking to journalists, take part in TV discussions or giving press statements or interviews on any aspect of the judicial crisis.

The meeting discussed the issue in detail, with particular reference to the restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court on entry into its premises and the warning to the media against maligning judges, Dawn reported Thursday.

The apex court, in a series of statements, strictly prohibited discussions, comments or write-ups amounting to interference in the legal process or aimed at ridiculing, scandalising, maligning the court or any of its judges, members of the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) and touching on merits of the cases pending before the judicial council or the Supreme Court.

"Any violation will be considered contempt of the court," one of the statements noted.

"Ever since the filing of the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and constitutional petitions on the subject, a mala fide campaign of making judges of the Supreme Court and SJC members controversial is going on, both in electronic as well as print media," the apex court said.

Citing examples, the court declared as frivolous, baseless and mischievous a news item stating that the wife of Supreme Court judge Raja Fayyaz Ahmed was a relative of the wife of the chief justice.

Referring to a controversy over a lunch, it explained that two judges were having lunch in the Islamabad Club when Attorney General Makhdoom Ali Khan and Sharifuddin Pirzada, perhaps Pakistan's senior most practicing lawyer, happened to be around and joined them.

Describing this as a mere coincidence, the Supreme Court said insinuations by the media about what transpired at the meeting were unfounded.

Some elements also tried to cast aspersions on judge Javed Buttar with reference to his sister's participation in the protests against the chief justice's sacking.

"Every person is responsible for his own conduct and behaviour and it is abhorable to scandalise the judge of the Supreme Court on account of other's behaviour or conduct," one of the court statements said.

"The Supreme Court judges and SJC members are committed to upholding and maintaining independence of judiciary and their personal links or relations are never a consideration that has any bearing on the performance of their constitutional functions. They have always acted independently and will continue to do so," the statement explained.

The warnings come at a time when a series of mysterious advertisements have started appearing on the front pages of some newspapers on the judicial crisis, its fallout and the future political set-up in the country.

"Observers recall that inexplicable advertisements against political governments had appeared in the past from anonymous sources and were considered a sign of change, but it is for the first time that such nameless caveats have appeared against the chief justice of Pakistan," Dawn noted.

The first of the advertisements appeared on May 6 and was issued by unidentified "impartial lawyers".

Apparently addressed to the chief justice, the advertisement touched upon sensitive aspects of Chaudhry as a human being who could not be impartial if restored to office and also referred to different political leaders who are presently supporting him.

It raised questions as to whether he would be able to deliver justice if lawyers supporting him and the government appeared before him on his return to office.

The advertisement also asked the chief justice "to restore" the high image of not only his office but also the confidence of his brother judges.

Another advertisement that appeared on May 9 referred to a proposed deal between the government and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Addressed to the general public, an unknown "Judiciary Defence Committee" gave the impression that the chief justice was being used to finalise the deal.

The advertisement asked the people to decide if they want a deal to strengthen Pakistan or bring Benazir Bhutto back to power.

"The Supreme Court warning also comes at a time when scandalous aspersions are being cast on judges by some elements and petitions targeting the Acting Chief Justice or judges are being filed in the Supreme Court," Dawn noted.

The court also issued guidelines for members of the bar, media personnel and litigant public visiting the Supreme Court on each date of hearing of the constitutional petitions by a 14-member full court from Monday.

According to the guidelines, entry to the courthouse would only be allowed for advocates of the Supreme Court or Advocates-on-Record whose cases are fixed for hearing before any bench. Litigants would be allowed in on furnishing proof of identity.

Entry of the media to the courtrooms will be regulated through entry passes issued by the Supreme Court registrar.