September 30th, 2020

By Rehan Piracha


LAHORE

Pakistan Federal Union Journalists and journalists have welcomed the formation of the Pakistan Bar Council’s Journalists Defence Committee saying the free legal aid committee would provide hope to journalists facing draconian cybercrime law in the country.

Speaking to Voicenet.pk, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar says the formation of the committee is a goodwill gesture for journalists from the lawyers of the country. “The lawyers share concerns expressed by journalists about the difficulties faced by media persons in the discharge of their duties in the prevailing oppressive situation in terms of human rights and freedom of expression,” Zulfiqar says.

Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi welcomed the formation of the committee by the PBC saying the bar council had fulfilled its promise made in its All Parties Conference in Islamabad on September 17. Zaidi says the PFUJ is in touch with the committee and will recommend cases of journalists facing court cases to the legal aid committee. “The free legal aid will be a ray of hope for journalists already strained with a financial crunch, unemployment and wrath of the state in the discharge of their duties,” Zaidi says.

Talking about the PFUJ committee formed on the abduction of journalist Mati Ullah Jan, Zaidi says the committee, headed by renowned journalist Ziauddin Ahmed, has up till now held four meetings and it is in process of finalizing its comprehensive report. As part of its investigation, the PFUJ committee will approach officials of the Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and other state agencies for their stance about the abduction, harassment, threats and intimidation faced by Matiullah Jan. “If the state agencies won’t respond with their stance, the PFUJ committee will mention it and submit its comprehensive report,” says Zaidi.

According to Zaidi, the PFUJ committee on Matiullah Jan is a test case for the journalistic body and will help set up a permanent mechanism for journalists faced with threats, harassment and intimidation during discharge of their duties. He forewarned that the FIA was investigating cases against 49 journalists and media activists in the country. Due to international pressure, the government had now changed its strategy towards missing persons, Zaidi says, adding that now the government was using draconian cybercrime law for the purpose of silencing critical voices in the media. 

The body will preempt  moves against journalists, says Matiullah Jan

Matiullah Jan and Asad Ali Toor also praised the formation of the Journalistic Defence Committee. “The free legal aid committee will preempt moves against journalists and media activists in the country,” Jan tells Voicepk.net in a conversation on the phone. Jan says the bar council is presently helping out in the case of journalist Asad Ali Toor. Jan says he will be helping the committee in judging the veracity of journalists who will be approaching it for legal assistance.

PFUJ, PBC should challenge PECA in SC, says Toor

Toor says the Journalists Defence Committee will provide hope to journalists like him who have no access to influential circles of the country. “The only option left for journalists oppressed and intimidated by state apparatus is the courts,” Toor says, adding that journalists with modest means find it quite difficult to engage legal assistance for his/her defence before a court.

“My faith in the free legal aid committee has further strengthened that it included two members who were presently fighting my case in court with great dedication,” Toor says. He says the bar committee members will surely show commitment and dedication in representing journalists facing cases and threats in their fight for freedom of expression in a very repressive situation in the country. He called for the PBC and PFUJ to jointly challenge the Pakistan Electronics Crime Act in the Supreme Court as being against fundamental rights and freedom of speech guaranteed under the country’s Constitution.

Who is in the committee and how will it work?

The committee formed by PBC vice-chairman Abid Saqi will provide legal assistance and services to journalists and their elected bodies in the courts of law at Islamabad/Rawalpindi.

Saqi says the bar council was in the process of expanding a network of free legal aid committees to all districts in the country. Talking about the absence of women lawyers on the bar first legal aid committee for journalists, Saqi clarifies that members had volunteered on their own accord for the committee, hoping that women lawyers will volunteer for such committees in the future.

Headed by Barrister Jahangir Jadoon, the committee consists of advocates Mohammad Usman Warraich, retired Col Inam-ur-Raheem, Sajid Tanoli, Babar Hayat Samoor, Umer Gillani and Haider Imtiaz. The PBC announced that any aggrieved journalist in need of legal aid or services could approach the committee.

Jahangir Jadoon says the day-old committee is in the process of framing standard operating procedures to provide legal assistance to journalists in the twin cities. “Once the SOPs are finalized we will share it with journalists,” Jadoon says.

Muhammad Usman Warriach who is also a member of the JDC, says all journalists can approach the committee regarding cases in courts relating to the discharge of their duties, adding that the committee will seek guidance from senior journalist Matiullah Jan and others in confirming the veracity of the journalist approaching them.

According to Warriach, the legal assistance to journalists will encompass a wide ambit. “Cases under PECA, civil suits, criminal cases, cases involving freedom of expression, threats, harassment and intimidation from state agencies, political parties and religious groups are some instances where the committee will provide assistance to aggrieved journalists, ” Warriach dilates on situations where journalists can come to the committee for help in court cases.

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