‘Absconders can’t be given relief’, says IHC judge Athar Minallah

Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Thursday observed that the court “cannot grant relief to an absconder”.

The IHC top judge was presiding over a single-bench hearing a petition challenging Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) directives to ban speeches, interviews, and public addresses by proclaimed offenders. 

During the hearing, Justice Minallah noted that the court had already declared that there would be no relief for any absconder in a case pertaining to airing interview of former dictator Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf. 

“Who are you asking relief for? Has the Pemra imposed a ban on anyone?” asked the judge. To which, the petitioner’s counsel Advocate Salman Akram Raja said there was no ban on an individual. 

Justice Minallah said an appeal can be filed by those who feel their Pemra directives violate their rights but those who are absconding have no right to challenge any ban. “They should surrender first then ask for legal protection.”

The judge noted that the court cannot be expected to suspend Pemra notification as it will provide absconders and proclaimed offenders an opportunity to broadcast their speeches. 

Raja argued that the Pemra decision affected thousands not just two people by violating citizen’s right to information granted by the Constitution. He said Article 19(A) gave the right of freedom of expression. 

When the bench asked if the petitioners wanted Musharraf’s speeches to be aired as well, the counsel said his appeal was not restricted to an individual. “Petitioners desire that they are not stopped from relaying information to the public.”

Justice Minallah remarked that freedom of expression was very important but the question in his case was different. “This is a test for the judicial system. You want us to grant relief to all absconding suspects? It will not be in public interest.”

The IHC top judge observed that the appeal seeks relief for all absconding suspects and the court did not want to grant that.

Giving the petitioner’s counsel time to prepare arguments to convince the court, the bench adjourned hearing till December 16.