Hearing of Jang Group's plea today

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court will start hearing in the constitutional petition of the Jang Group of publications against the federation and others for muzzling the press here today (Tuesday), which resulted in gross violations of fundamental rights and involves a matter of great public importance.

Along with the main petition, filed by Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief Mir Shakeel-ur-Rahman in the Supreme Court on February 1, two miscellaneous petitions/applications -- one relating to contempt of the court and the other seeking the apex court's intervention to suspend the income tax notices served on the Jang Group -- will also be taken up by the 3-member bench. Justice Khalil-ur-Rahman Khan is heading the bench, which comprises Justice Sh Ijaz Nisar and Justice Muhammad Arif. As the public interest has shot up to the maximum in the freedom of press petition of the Jang Group, it is expected that the two separate petitions moved by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (both the groups) will also be taken up for hearing on the same day.

A panel of lawyers led by world-fame Sharifuddin Pirzada, and comprising president Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Abid Hasan Minto, senior advocates Makhdoom Ali Khan, Iqbal Naeem Pasha, and Sirajul Haq Memon, and Sh Masood Akhtar (advocate on record) will appear in the case on behalf of the petitioners. Advocate Akram Shaikh and Asma Jehangir will represent the two journalists organisations.

In its preliminary hearing on February I, the court had issued notices to all the five respondents -- Federation of Pakistan through secretary Interior, the secretary Information, Senator Saifur Rahman (chairman Ehtesab Bureau of Prime Minister's Secretariat), director-general FIA, and Central Board of Revenue through its chairman -- to appear before it today.

However, the most significant development since February 1, is that a meeting of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), held in Lahore last Thursday, unanimously voted to "associate itself with the petition field by the Jang Group and the PFUJ in the Supreme Court". From APNS, Hameed Haroon, (president), Jamil Ather, (vice-president), Mir Javaid Rahman (general secretary), M Jabbar Khattak (joint secretary), Shahid Hashmi (secretary finance), Mushtaq Qureshi, Waqar Yousuf Azeem, Riaz Mansoor, Javed Mehr Shamsi, Qutubuddin, Arif Mahmood, Ilyas Shakir, Kazi Asad Abid, Mohammad Aslam Kazi, Arshad A Zuberi, Arif Nizami, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Shami, Mustafa Sadiq, Zia Shahid, Mumtaz A Tahir, Munir Jilani, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, Pir Safaid Shah, Hassan Pooya, Sharif Farooq, Siddiq Baloch, Fasih Iqbal, Inqillab Matri, Masudah Ahmed, Sarmad A Ali, Tanvir A Tahir, Anwar Farooqui, Iqbal Dar, Mehmood Ahmad Madni, Mahmood-ul-Aziz, Najam Sheikh, and Mukhtar Aquil will be present in the courtroom to witness the proceedings. It has been contended that the government used pressure on the largest group of newspapers -- The Jang Group -- to change its policy in accordance with the wishes of the rulers and to sack 16 leading journalists working in the newspapers of the Group.

The degree of interest by the journalists community, lawyers and workers in this petition is so intense that "top-gun" from the print media have already arrived in the capital to witness the proceedings in a likely jam-packed courtroom. The main petition raises issue of great public importance relating to interference in fundamental rights guaranteeing the freedom of speech and expression of the press as well as other fundamental rights guaranteed under various articles of the constitution and the principles of policy enshrined in the constitution.

The Jang Group filed a petition for contempt of court on February 3, when the Central Board of Revenue allegedly declined to comply with the order of the apex court to release 1,094 reels of newsprint in Karachi. The miscellaneous petition will also be taken up and the Collector Customs (Appraisement) will explain the reason of not releasing the newsprint reels as ordered by the court.

The News International Pakistan