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No Action Against Journalists in Anti-Judiciary Campaign until Feb 8 Elections, Assures Supreme Court

Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan assured the Supreme Court on Tuesday that journalists, who had been issued notices regarding their alleged involvement in smear campaigns, would not face any action until after the general elections scheduled for February 8.

This assurance came during a hearing of a suo motu case, which was being considered alongside an older case from 2021 related to journalist harassment. The three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa and including Justice Muhammed Ali Mazhar and Justice Mussarat Hilali, presided over the hearing.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict on the election symbol of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a malicious social media campaign targeted Supreme Court judges, prompting the caretaker government to form a five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on January 17. The JIT, formed under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, comprises officials from the police, FIA, and intelligence agencies.

A list titled “JIT-SM campaign against CJP and State Institutions” containing names of 47 media persons and YouTubers circulated widely on social media, leading to concerns about freedom of expression.

The AGP informed the court that notices would be reissued after the elections. During the hearing, AGP Awan and officials from the Press Association of Supreme Court were present.

Chief Justice Isa inquired about any filed petitions, but the press association’s president stated that no petition could be filed due to the FIA not providing a list. The Chief Justice emphasized the need for a petition to be filed for the court to issue any orders.

Regarding the JIT’s notification, Justice Mazhar highlighted that those who received notices could have submitted their responses. AGP Awan mentioned that the JIT activities were halted until the hearing.

Journalist Matiullah Jan expressed concerns about media control attempts and requested that summons be issued post-elections. Suggestions were made for the federal government to develop a social media code of conduct.

The Chief Justice clarified that the court could only request stakeholders to collaborate and noted that notices were not withdrawn despite the court’s observations.

The Supreme Court allowed journalists time until the elections to appear before the FIA inquiry, with the AGP confirming that FIA notices would be addressed after the elections. Additionally, the court sought an investigation report on the attack on journalist Absar Alam.

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