Pakistan Court Sustains Gag Order Against Fugitives, Proclaimed Offenders

There will be no relief for proclaimed absconders and fugitives –they can’t use airtime and address the nation using their right to exercise freedom of speech, according to Pakistan’s Islamabad High Court (IHC) order on Thursday.

The court’s Chief Justice Athar Minallah said a “proclaimed offender cannot even challenge an illegal order”.

“[This is] a test for the entire judicial system. You want that relief be granted to all absconding suspects?” he questioned and added: “Granting relief to an absconding suspect is not in the public interest.”

Justice Minallah was hearing a complaint against Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (Pemra) order to ban speeches, interviews and public addresses by proclaimed offenders.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and 15 journalists, anchorpersons and media analysts had filed the lawsuit against Pemra’s gag order.

Last month, the country’s electronic media regulatory authority had issued an order to all satellite news channels prohibiting them from broadcasting and repeat broadcasting speeches, interviews and public addresses by proclaimed offenders and absconders.

The order came after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech was broadcast live by the electronic media while he was addressing a multi-parties conference via video link from London in October.

The top judge observed that if the court threw out Pemra’s order, “all absconders will get the right to go on air”.

The judge noted that the court had ruled in a previous case relating to former dictator retired Gen Pervez Musharraf that no relief can be granted to a fugitive.

Justice Minallah said the “court cannot grant relief to an absconder”. The judge said absconders should first surrender themselves before the court and then avail their legal rights.

“It’s a landmark judgment and a judicial high mark for the country’s institutions,” said several legal professionals.