The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday temporarily barred TV channels from airing alleged "anti-judiciary speeches" uttered by PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and other leaders.
A three-judge full bench, headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, and comprising Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Chaudhry Masood Jahangir, had taken up a set of petitions against "anti-judiciary speeches" delivered by PML-N leaders. The bench directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to decide the complaints pending with it regarding the alleged contemptuous speeches within 15 days as well.
Until the authority decides the complaints, no alleged "anti-judiciary speeches" delivered by PML-N leaders will be allowed to be aired during the 15 days, the court ruled, directing Pemra to ensure strict monitoring of programmes to prevent any such content from being broadcast.
The court also rejected an application filed by Advocate A.K. Dogar on behalf of Sharif requesting that Justice Naqvi recuse himself from the full bench. Advocate Azhar Siddique, who was representing one of the petitioners, argued before the court that Article 19-A of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to "fair criticism" to every citizen.
But Justice Naqvi observed that the constitutional right to fair criticism is conditional to law and regulation.
"It can't be that anyone out there goes about denouncing judicial matters and decisions in the name of 'fair criticism'," he remarked, adding that it would make sense for an expert or lawyer to comment on such matters but not everyone can be allowed to do the same.
Advocate Salman Akram Raja, the counsel for Pemra, argued that the petitioners were raising unnecessary objections against the regulatory body's authority. He said Pemra had rejected an application against alleged anti-judiciary speeches on "technical grounds" using its authority.
"Should we not take away from this that [Pemra] allowed airing of anti-judiciary speeches by rejecting the application?" the bench asked.
"Pemra may have been made a minor error [of judgment] by rejecting the application," the counsel responded.
The court reserved its decision after hearing all arguments and subsequently announced a 15-day ban on speeches deemed to be contemptuous.
Following the Panama Papers verdict which led to Sharif's disqualification as premier, Sharif and other PML-N leaders have drawn ire for their criticism of the judiciary.
Multiple petitions have been filed in different courts against them over alleged contempt of court. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and federal and provincial ministers of the PML-N have also been made respondents in the petitions. In January, the Islamabad High Court had accepted a contempt of court petition against Sharif and his daughter Maryam for making speeches critical of the judiciary.
The Supreme Court, however, dismissed multiple contempt of court petitions against the ousted prime minister last month, saying on one occasion: "Commenting cleanly on a [court] decision is the right of every citizen."