SC adjourns hearing in Jang, PFUJ petitions

By our correspondent

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday adjourned for indefinite period the hearing of Jang Group's constitutional petition for freedom of press when the petitioner sought adjournment in view of the government-Jang Group negotiations for out of court settlement.

The 3-member Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Khalil-ur-Rehman Khan, and comprising Justice Sh Ijaz Nisar and Justice Mohammad Arif granted adjournment on the Jang Group chief Mir Shakilur Rehman's petition when his lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada sought the adjournment as part of his strategy.

The court ordered adjournment of the hearing of all the petitions, and miscellaneous applications for a date in office, which means that now the court's office will fix a new date for these petitions which have now been clubbed. The court also decided that on the next date the main petition, along with petitions filed by Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and PFUJ (Dastoor) and the miscellaneous application would be heard.

Sharifuddin Pirzada first argued that the main petition should be taken up for hearing, but when the court dispelled the impression that the date was not fixed for the main petition, Pirzada requested for adjournment of the hearing. He informed the apex court that negotiations are going on between the petitioner and Respondent No 3 (Senator Saifur Rehman), and in these negotiations certain suggestion are being made. "In view of this, our main petition and miscellaneous applications be adjourned and heard along with main petition."

The request was immediately accepted by the court by ordering to adjourn the hearing, though Justice Khalil observed, "We could not understand how the impression was created that today the court was going to take up for hearing the main petition." He said since Mr Pirzada stated that negotiations were going on for the out of court settlement of the controversy, it would be appropriate that the matter be adjourned and the main petition along with miscellaneous applications for interim relief be heard on the next date.

Senior advocates Sharifuddin Pirzada, Abid Hasan Minto, Makhdoom Ali Khan, A N Pasha, and others appeared on behalf of the Jang Group. Advocate Asma Jehangir represented one faction of PFUJ, while Akram Shaikh appeared on behalf of PFUJ (Dastoor).

In a jam-packed court-room saturated with the presence of media top guns like Mir Shakilur Rehman, the petitioner, members of the APNS, editors including Dr Maleeha Lodhi, Kamila Hayat, Mujeebur Rehman Shami, writers columnists, journalists and representatives of journalist unions, the proceeding started with a well-prepared argument by human rights activists Asma Jehangir who insisted that the petition filed by the PFUJ should also be heard today, and no shabby treatment be given as the PFUJ's petition was originally listed for Tuesday. Justice Khalil, however, disagreed with her and others including advocate Akram Shaikh and said that "this date was fixed for taking up the main petition.

Asma Jehangir, however, pressed ahead with her request saying how the questions raised in the miscellaneous applications will be decided without considering the maintainability of the main petition. She said it was the court which announced on February 1st to take up the main petition. She also insisted that the matter is important as the institution of press has helped democratise the country. The court also refused to take up the application moved by Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and observed that it will also be heard along with the main petition. Rana Ejaz, a PBC official, said that all the state pillars are being destroyed and the bar has intervened to save the fourth pillar of the state.

From the government side, deputy attorney general Maulvi Anwarul Haq filed the government's reply to the Jang Group's petition, while Central Board of Revenue and Collector Customs (Appraisement) Karachi submitted para-wise comments on the contempt of court application field by the Jang Group for not releasing 1,094 reels of newsprint as ordered by the apex court. Abid Hassan Minto and other lawyers representing journalist bodies sought joint hearing of all the petitions relating to the issue of freedom of press by a larger bench of the Supreme Court. Justice Khalil said that the same request will be forwarded to the Chief Justice of Pakistan for a final decision.

Advocate Akram Shaikh argued on behalf of the PFUJ (Dastoor) and said that the matter is of great public importance, as the matter is related to freedom of press and jobs of employees and their livelihood is at stake if the newspapers would go out of print. Justice Khalil said it was main reason that the interim relief was granted so that the newspapers should not be gone out of print. "Whatever is due, it has to be done and granted," said Justice Khalil.

The News International Pakistan