Thursday, January 20, 2022

Rana Shamim affidavit: IHC indicts ex-judge in contempt case

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah defers journalists' indictment, adjourns proceedings till February 15

  • IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah defers journalists' indictment.
  • Adjourns proceedings till Feb 15, asks Shamim to submit written response.
  • Warns if news found to be published deliberately, action will be taken.

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) formally charged on Thursday ex-chief justice of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Shamim for allegations he levelled against former chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar in a signed affidavit in London.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, meanwhile, deferred indictment against the journalists in the case after Attorney-General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan and an amicus curiae requested it.

The AGP, amicus curiae Reema Omer, Nasir Zaidi, Faisal Siddiqui, The News' Editor Investigations Ansar Abbasi, and the publication's editor-in-chief were present during the hearing.

The contempt of court case pertains to the publication of an affidavit containing serious allegations that ex-chief justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar attempted to influence a case against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz.

Ex-president Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Afzal Butt was also present during the hearing and when called on, he said journalists were conducting meetings on reporting court stories. "A code of conduct would be published soon."

"I am ready to say on oath that journalists have faith in this court [...] we believe that the court is the last hope," he told the IHC CJ.

The IHC then told Shamim that the court would frame charges against him, but the ex-judge requested they be framed at a later date as his lawyer was not present.

Rejecting the plea, the IHC CJ decided to frame charges.

The IHC CJ, reading out the charge sheet, said Shamim's affidavit was recorded in London and despite the ex-judge admitting that the document could have been leaked, he did not take action against The News' investigative journalist Ansar Abbasi and the notary office in Britain's capital.

"You tried to scandalise the court [...] and now that the charges have been framed against you in open court, what do you have to say?" the IHC CJ asked Shamim.

At this, the ex-judge asked Justice Minallah to hand him a copy of the document, which included the charges against him.

"Do you accept the charges or not," asked the IHC CJ, to which Shamim said he accepted some charges and disagreed with some.

Justice Minallah told the ex-judge that he could submit in writing if he wanted to defend himself. Responding to the IHC CJ, Shamim said: "If you have decided, then punish me today [...] hang me if you want; why are you singling me out."

The charge sheet

The charge sheet further stated that Rana Shamim had said in an affidavit that former chief justice Saqib Nisar on his vacation in Gilgit Baltistan directed the SC registrar and a trial court judge that PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz should not come out of jail before 2018 general elections.

As per the affidavit Rana Shamim asked Saqib Nisar why he had given this instruction, to which former chief justice replied that Punjab and Gilgit Baltistan have a different scenario, it said.

During the hearing, the IHC top judge said that a lot of narratives have been created and many people have disrespected and made a mockery of this constitutional court in connection with this case.

On Butt's plea, the IHC CJ said that the court can’t allow the licensee to disrespect the court. "You don’t have any idea that an attempt was made to influence the case," he said.

"This court believes in an open trial and welcomes it, but the news article has nothing to do with Saqib Nisar but with this court," IHC CJ Athar Minallah added.

He expressed anger and said that people were told that judges of this court are compromised.

The general sectary of PFUJ and a senior journalist, Nasir Zaidi, told the court that many things were learnt through this proceeding of the court. "If you start contempt of court action against a journalist, it will send out a wrong message to the world," he said.

"We are in the learning phase. We have faced military courts and now facing independent courts and are now drafting code of conducts," he added.

The IHC CJ said he had known Ansar Abbasi for 20 years and had no doubts over his integrity. "[...] but my concern is related to this court and the gist of the affidavit declared this court as compromised," he said.

The attorney-general said that this is the first time media also expressed regret. "Therefore I plead the court to defer the indictment against media persons at least," he said.

Amicus curiae Faisal Siddiqui went on to say that journalist associations have behaved in such a great manner and that now media persons should also say that they would be careful next time.

"The way media is reporting this case is also against the sub judice role, further, the newspaper that is a part of proceedings has also published statements of international organizations," he said.

Later on, the court asked Rana Shamim if he had filed more than two petitions, on which the ex-CJ of Gilgit Baltistan read out his petitions in court.

The court also dismissed pleas to inquire about the affidavit and changing of the prosecutor of the case before indictment. 

Shamim seeks investigation

Meanwhile, Shamim said that for justice to prevail, an affidavit of the former CJP was also crucial in this case, as he asked the court to also seek Nisar's response. "Former chief justice's affidavit should be presented before the [court] and an opportunity should be given to cross-examine him."

The ex-judge told the IHC CJ that until it is proven that the facts mentioned in his affidavit were false, a case of criminal proceedings could not be formed against him.

He mentioned that he had "no plans" of publishing the affidavit, as he praised the judiciary, saying that he respects the court, whose judges make decisions in line with the law.

"I request the court that an inquiry into the affidavit be conducted instead of framing charges," he said.

At this, the IHC CJ asked Shamim if he had ever heard a contempt case, as he was a former chief justice himself.

"No, I have never heard such cases, nor do I believe in the concept of contempt," Shamim responded.

At this, Justice Minallah explained to Shamim that despite the framing of charges, he would still be given the chance to defend himself.

Moreover, adjourning the indictment against the journalists, Justice Minallah said that if it was found during the trial that the news story was published deliberately, action would be taken.

After the arguments, Justice Minallah adjourned the proceedings till February 15 and asked Shamim to present his written response.