Pakistan’s judges are using their contempt of court powers to muzzle the media from airing their independent views critical of the judiciary, Human Rights Watch has said.

Since Pakistan’s independent judiciary was restored to office in 2009, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and provincial high courts have repeatedly sought to prevent media criticism of the judiciary through threats of contempt of court proceedings, which can bring prison terms, the New York-based watch group said.

It said since October 2012, the high courts in Islamabad and Lahore have issued orders to stop the broadcast of television programs critical of the judiciary.

“Judges sworn to uphold the rule of law should not be using their broad contempt powers to muzzle criticism by the media,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Judges have no special immunity from criticism. Unless they want to be seen as instruments of coercion and censorship, they should immediately revoke these curbs on free expression.”

The human rights watch group comments come in the wake of a spate of court orders that seek to limit the media’s free expression rights.

Judge Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court issued a restraining order to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to stop airing criticism of the judiciary on television.

On November 20, the court maintained the stay order preventing the airing of critical programming and demanded a progress report from PEMRA on a television show broadcast on October 26 on ARY, a private channel, which criticised the conduct of Supreme Court Chief Justice Chaudhry.

Another judge Nasir Saeed Sheikh of the Lahore High Court issued a stay order on October 16 against the airing of “anti-judiciary” programming on television.

HRW quoted journalists as saying that major television stations and newspapers were informally advised by judicial authorities that they would be summoned to face contempt of court charges for criticising or commenting unfavourably on judicial decisions or specific judges.

(This article was published on November 27, 2012)
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