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Govt comes to ‘rescue’ as spy agencies stand in dock

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ISLAMABAD: As the government tried to absolve a spy agency of blame for its alleged attempt to influence the audio leaks case, the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday issued notices to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Federal Investi­gation Agency (FIA), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) as well as the defence ministry, and sought response within a week.

The notices were issued as IHC’s two larger benches initiated contempt proceedings on the complaint of two judges against alleged intimidation and scandalising against the backdrop of a defamation campaign and subsequent data leak pertaining to one of the judges.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Aamer Farooq, comprising Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb and Justice Arbab Mohammad Tahir took up Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani’s complaint whereas Justice Babar Sattar’s complaint was taken up by Justice Kayani, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri, and Justice Sardar Ejaz Ishaq Khan.

In his complaint, Justice Kayani sought action against alleged contemnors under Section 11 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance. This section said, “(1) A superior Court may take action in a case of judicial contempt on its own initiative or on information laid before it by any person” for laying false information.

The bench perused the complaint and issued notices to advocate Mohammad Waqas Malik who had filed a reference in the Supreme Judicial Council against Justice Kayani, journalists Mateeullah Jan and Talat Hussain who had interviewed Waqas Malik.

The bench sought transcripts of the programmes from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and adjourned the hearing for a fortnight.

Complaint of Justice Sattar

Regarding Justice Sattar’s complaint in which he sought action over a data leak which compromised the privacy of his family, the larger bench took up the case. Justice Sattar wrote to the IHC chief justice that the privacy of his family was breached as their personal data was leaked online.

The judge stated that while hearing the audio leaks case, he issued notices to the heads of intelligence and investigation agencies, including ISI, IB, and FIA besides relevant ministries.

“The question before the court is whether there exists a legal regime permitting surveillance of citizens. At some point during the hearing of the case, I was delivered messages on behalf of top officials in the security establishment asking me to ‘back off’ from extensive scrutiny of the existence and mode of surveillance. I paid no heed to such intimidatory tactics and did not find that such messages created a risk of substantial determent to the administration of justice.”

The judge added that the social media campaign was part of the “intimidation tactics”.

“The current malicious campaign’s focus on cases involving PTA appears to be an intimidatory tactic to influence court proceedings.”

The bench headed by Justice Kayani issued notices to ISI, IB, FIA, the defence ministry, Pemra and the Immigration director general, and sought a reply by next week.

According to Justice Kayani, the defence ministry has a mechanism to ensure cyber security to prevent data leaks and if the system is breached, it shows their incompetency. He observed that the prime responsibility to protect the judge’s personal data was of the DG Immigration, therefore, he was also under obligation to inquire into this matter on his own.

Govt response

The government rebutted allegations that the security agency tried to influence the proceedings in a case.

In a video message, Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan said: “The contents of that letter are being reported in such a way and the impression is being given as if there is interference in the IHC and that a message was sent to that judge regarding a specific case, or he understood it this way, or it was sent from such an individual which it should have not.”

The AGP rejected the perception against the security agency, saying the judge himself said that he did not feel intimidated by the message, “however he understood it”, to be an act of interference in the principles of justice.

The AGP said there were some “sensitive matters” of the state where it was necessary to have communication between different institutions. He added that the AGP’s office or the provincial advocate generals forwarded such communication. “I should make it clear regarding this case that a request was made that the briefing regarding our capability on surveillance and other matters about national security, internal and external, be made in-camera so it does not go into the public domain.”

The AGP added that as per his information, no official from any security institution had made such kind of direct contact nor could they do so.

He said it was the AGP office that had initiated the contact to request that sensitive information be shared in in-camera hearings only.

Later, Law and Justice Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar held a press conference to dispel the impression that the intelligence agency tried to influence the judge. He said the judge was requested to hold a hearing on surveillance in-camera as the courts had always heeded such requests and should continue to do so as well since it was in the “wider public interest”.