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Pakistan Bar Council To Give Free Legal Service To Journalists Facing Sedition Charges

The Pakistan Bar Council has announced ‘free legal representation’ for all journalists and political workers who are facing sedition and other related charges.

This was announced by PBC Vice Chairperson Abid Saqi during an all-parties conference organised by the top lawyers body on the issues relating to accountability, justice, and civil liberties.

The moot was attended by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) President Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Chairman Mahmood Khan Achakzai and other opposition leaders.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was also invited to the multi-party moot, but it did not respond to the invitation.

During the APC, Saqi said the bar council will provide pro bono services to lawyers and political workers. He said a committee that includes Ahsan Bhoon and Kamran Murtaza has been established in this regard.

APC called by PBC:

Last month, the PBC had announced that it would hold an all-parties conference next month to discuss a host of issues including the country’s accountability law as the current PTI-led government was apparently running on call-up notices issued by the top anti-graft body. “The space for freedom of expression is continuously shrinking in the country,” PBC Vice Chairman Abid Saqi had said.

The bar council expressed concerns over the fact that the superior judiciary in same cases allegedly remains complacent to the violation of civil liberties without holding the respective state institutions accountable to the unlawful disappearances aimed at deoxygenising democratic dissent in the country, said the report.

The lawyers body also questioned the criteria of judges’ promotion to superior courts, saying such practices comprised ‘the principle of transparency, competence, and neutrality’. It may be noted here the lawyers’ bodies and the chief justice of the Peshawar High Court have questioned the criteria of the promotion of the judges multiple times while asking the judicial council for a review.

“That is perhaps one of the key reasons that the process of accountability was reduced to a mere instrument of coercion and concession leading to an entrenched culture of patrimonialism in the country,” the PBC was quoted as saying.

In the light of the prevalent circumstances, the PBC thought it was imperative to hold a huddle that would help ‘formulate a responsive legislative agenda, correcting the regularity framework and addressing institutional distortion, including appointments to the superior judiciary, ensuring a credible system of accountability and protecting civil rights of citizens at large’, said the report.

Journalists booked:

Earlier this week, a PTI lawmaker moved a private member bill in the National Assembly, seeking to criminalise ‘defaming the armed forces or any of its members’.

The bill was moved after three journalists and a rights activist were booked over the past week over allegations of propaganda against state institutions.

On Sept 11, Journalist Bilal Farooqi was arrested and booked on charges of defaming the Pakistan Army and ‘hate speech’ over his social media posts. Rights activists and journalists condemned his arrest, saying that his detention was another instance of a clampdown on dissent.

Similarly, former Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) chairman Absar Alam, journalist Asad Ali Toor, and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) member Ihtesham Afghan have been booked by the police under charges relating to the defamation of state institutions and anti-state activities.

The complaint, registered by a resident of Rawalpindi named Ehtisham Ahmed, against Toor stated that “[Toor] spread negative propaganda and used derogatory language against the government institutions, including the Pakistan Army, which was a grave crime according to the law.”

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