Journalist pleads with SC to take fresh look at contempt powers

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Journalist pleads with SC to take fresh look at contempt powers

ISLAMABAD: Journalist Matiullah Jan submitted before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the tweet for which he was facing a contempt charge was only meant to convey his disappointment on an order that had allegedly been criticised by a large section of society.

“If it is being construed as inappropriately worded and has caused any distress to honourable judges, the same is regretted,” pleaded the journalist in the reply he furnished before the apex court through his counsel Babar Sattar.

“However, it is reiterated that expression of one’s honest and genuine opinion/reaction on a verdict that has already been announced, should be encouraged and commended by the judiciary for its candour and verity rather than punished for being contemptuous,” the reply contended.

Matiullah Jan was kidnapped by unknown persons in broad daylight from the federal capital on July 21, but released subsequently in a far-flung area at night after a hue and cry over his abduction. Jan was facing contempt of court proceedings for his tweet against the judiciary.

Expresses regret in case his tweet caused distress to judge

Matiullah Jan appealed to the court to withdraw the July 15 contempt notice and wind up the proceedings. In addition, he challenged the Contempt of Court Ordinance of 2003, contending that it violated Article 19 of the Constitution by infringing upon the constitutionally protected fundamental right of free speech.

The reply pleaded that the Supreme Court should dismiss the contempt notice since the move was “unprecedented and a case of first impression”.

The reply argued that due to “heavy-handedness of state institutions” in policing opinions on cable news channels, many journalists, including the respondent, had taken their content to YouTube and Twitter.

“The attraction of online forums is that it provides a globalised exchange of ideas where different opinions of journalists find their way to audiences,” the reply said.

“This unprecedented action of seeking to restrict online speech takes away this opportunity from journalists and citizens at large to meaningfully partake in this online marketplace of ideas.”

Because the effect of the decision in the contempt proceedings can have widespread ramifications and includes questions that have a bearing on the citizens’ and journalists’ use of social media, the Supreme Court ought to traverse this uncharted territory extremely carefully, Matiullah Jan argued.

With increased globalisation, and the widespread use of social media as a means of making a living and running of businesses, the apex court ought to take into account the repercussions that may flow from using its contempt powers to police online content, the petitioner contended.

“The new habitat that we occupy, the new reality that confronts us, is that online social media forums are here to stay,” the reply noted.

“Progressive societies will adapt themselves to this new reality and use it to propel themselves forward,” it said, adding that the Supreme Court should consider whether enforcement of its orders will be possible once it finds a particular social media post to be contemptuous if, for instance, a particular content is first posted by a non-Pakistani living abroad, but that post later finds traction in Pakistan.

The reply pleaded that the bench that initiated the contempt proceedings should not hear this case pursuant to Section 11(3) of the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

The reply suggested that the matter be placed before the most senior judge for disposal in accordance with Section 11 of the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

Newspaper: Dawn