May 24th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has ruled that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) cannot deprive any Pakistani of the right to citizenship by blocking, suspending or cancelling their computerized national identity card (CNIC).
The 29-page order was authored by Chief Justice of the IHC Justice Athar Minallah in a set of petitions filed by 11 petitioners, including JUI-F leader and former senator Hafiz Hamdullah.
The CNICs of all the petitioners were either blocked or suspended by NADRA on reports provided byy intelligence agencies. The court ordered to restore the CNICs of all the applicants.
The court also noted that NADRA’s functions are only limited to registering citizens and maintaining the population’s database, and that the renunciation of citizenship can only be done under the Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951 by a competent authority, that too after completing all the legal procedures.
“The Authority [NADRA] is bereft of the power to block, suspend, impound or confiscate a CNIC on the ground of eligibility relating to citizenship unless an order passed by the competent authority under subsection 6 of section 16 of the Citizenship Act has attained finality or the Authority has been informed that the competent authority has either confirmed renunciation of citizen ship under section 14 A or its loss under section 16 A,” the order read.
The IHC Chief Justice in his judgment also observed that apart from the citizenship act, many international laws and conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights bar any state from arbitrarily depriving any person of their nationality.
“Citizenship is the most valuable basic right of a human. All other rights, whether social or political, cannot be enjoyed if a person does not have a bond of citizenship with a State. The fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution are rendered meaningless if a person is stripped of citizenship. It has a devastating impact on human lives,” the order said.
It added: “[Neither NADRA] nor the intelligence agencies are competent to determine the question of citizenship of a person. The suspension of a duly issued CNIC or cancellation thereof has a profound and grave consequence because it virtually brings the life of an affected person to a halt and the latter, by implication, is denied the exercise of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”
The verdict also noted that if the intelligence agencies have credible information that ineligible persons have been registered as citizens, then they are required to report the matter along with credible material to the respective administrative Ministry or Division.
“The intelligence agencies are bound to adopt the procedure prescribed under the Rules of Business, 1973 and also to ensure that the fundamental rights of eligible citizens are protected and that they are not exposed to the consequences of statelessness.”
The case of Hafiz Hamdullah:
The former JUI-F senator’s citizenship was revoked by NADRA in October 2019 – was declared an alien and an alleged Afghan national who had fraudulently obtained his CNIC.
Following this, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) also rushed to pass a directive to restrain news and current affair TV channels from inviting and projecting the petitioner in their programmes/talk shows, news, etc.
In the verdict, the court specifically mentioned his case to exemplify the arbitrariness and recklessness of the actions taken by NADRA to cancel his citizenship.
“[Hafiz Hamdullah] and his father have lived in Pakistan all their lives. They own properties and the petitioner has held various public offices as an elected representative. His son has the distinction and privilege of having been accepted as a commissioned officer in the Armed Forces,” the order read.
“There could not have been a more glaring example of arbitrary and reckless action by the Authority [NADRA] of purportedly depriving a registered citizen of his citizenship and that too when the latter had no jurisdiction under the Ordinance of 2000 to do so,” it added.
The IHC admonished PEMRA for banning Hamdullah from appearing on TV, and declared that the regulatory body’s decision violates the rights of a citizen as enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution.
“There is nothing on record to justify passing of the impugned order by Pemra. The order, dated 26-10-2019, is declared to have been issued illegally and wholly without authority and jurisdiction,” the order stated