A national approach to freedom of expression -The frontier Post

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Chief Justice Islamabad High Court (IHC) Justice Athar Minallah ordered action against the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officials allegedly involved in the arrest of two journalists in Lahore. In a response to the Court’s order, the Additional Attorney General said that action should be taken against the FIA officials under the law if they had violated the legal process in the case. However, the Chief Justice IHC said that the court had repeatedly asked to avoid harassing the journalists who were giving their opinion on certain subjects, but what happened in Lahore after the last hearing was a contempt of court. According to Chief Justice IHC, FIA had been playing tricks with the court and asked whether the SOPs made on the instructions of Islamabad High Court were not applicable. According to reports, the FIA had called a journalist and asked him about his source, while harassing another journalist on raising a problem relating to the environment. While referring to these two cases, the Court said that no one should worry about criticism. According to reports, FIA arrested two vloggers from Lahore under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) on August 7 and released them on the same day due to huge pressure from the civil society. FIA claimed that both vloggers were involved in criticism of national institutions and judiciary.

Freedom of expression is the basic right conferred by the constitution of Pakistan to all its citizens without any discrimination. Currently, the judiciary is backing the public right of expression, whereas the government has no courage to get the criticism and observes it in a positive manner. Often, this constitutional right of the public remains under attacks by the governments because those who advocate freedom of expression in opposition benches started clamping down on sane voices when sitting in the chair. The Islamabad High Court was hearing the cases of journalists during these days and had issued instructions to the FIA in this regard. Therefore, the court expressed annoyance over violation of instructions and declared it a contempt of the court. However, the chief justice noted that the court had not stopped any department from its legal work. As far as criticism is concerned it is not an offence under the constitution of Pakistan. Criticism can be used for improvement purposes if the government does so, however ignoring biased criticism automatically rendered it ineffective. In fact, continuous derogatory remarks and use of insane language against national institutions is a point of concern for all patriotic citizens of the country and may have the roguish intentions of an individual. Such cases should be dealt according to the law in consultation with the media organizations and the court because unnecessary hype earned bad name to the country

The rapid growth of digital media has posed several challenges to our society, media organizations, and the government and it demands a collective approach to tackle the new hitches emerging from this revolution. Pakistan is passing through a transformation phase; therefore the government, society and journalists need to determine the modalities to cope up the new challenges amicably. However, freedom of expression is a basic right of the public, which needs to be safeguarded, while securing the genuine national interests and all stakeholders including government, judiciary and media organizations must play their role in achieving this collective goal.