Selective Contempt Proceedings

Author: Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The judiciary is the most sanctimonious institution of the state and the individuals manning it deserve utmost respect by the people and society. However, respect and veneration do not come automatically. The judges have to earn it through their decisions and verdicts strictly in conformity with the constitution and law premised on principles of fairness and equality of citizens.

When any judge or judges deviate from these established principles of jurisprudence then they justifiably come under criticism. Our history is replete with innumerable verdicts delivered by pliable judges that have had a debilitating impact on the polity. No wonder then that Pakistan stands at the lowest rung as far as the dispensation of justice is concerned.

The SC has initiated contempt of court proceedings against Senator Faisal Wada and Mustafa Kamal in which they allegedly hurled threats at the judges and used unpalatable language against them. Similarly, the IHC has also formed two larger benches for contempt proceedings against persons involved in a smear campaign against Justice Babar Sattar and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiani on social media.

Members sitting on both sides must realize that the public did not send them to the parliament to fight duels but to resolve their problems.

What would be the outcome of these contempt of court proceedings cannot be predicted but judging by the mood of the judiciary at the moment things are not going to go smoothly. It is honestly felt that nobody has the right to threaten the judges or subject them to personal criticism. Even the members of the parliament cannot discuss the conduct of the judges in the house. I am not challenging the decision of the courts to start contempt proceedings in the above-mentioned cases but would like to point out that the courts have been selective in starting contempt cases against individuals guilty of throwing unwarranted flak at the judiciary.

How come the courts conveniently neglected the convulsions of Raoof Hasan information secretary of PTI against CJ of IHC Justice Amir Farooq by Raoof during a press conference recently in which he dubbed the judge as a ‘tout’ under whose supervision Imran was convicted in different cases? Those remarks constituted much more serious allegations against the sitting CJ of IHC and warranted action against the accuser. Similarly, the former Rawalpindi Commissioner also levelled serious allegations against the Chief Justice of Pakistan for playing a role in the rigging of elections. That was also a fit case for initiating contempt of court proceedings against him.

People are looking at this selective justice from two angles. One is that within the judiciary there is still some tilt and sympathy towards Imran Khan and his party. The other is that probably the judges are scared of the impact of social media on the party and their ability to malign and denigrate the judiciary and the judges which it has been doing incessantly. Whatever the reason this selective justice raises many questions regarding independence and impartiality of the judiciary. People not only want justice being done but also seen to be done.

Nevertheless, I am of the firm opinion that nobody who throws unwarranted allegations at the judiciary and tries to bring into disrepute the judges, must not be spared and made to face the music. Similarly, the tendency to denigrate other state institutions including the Pakistan Army must also be discouraged firmly.

Availing this opportunity, I would also like to discuss the ambience of animosity reflected in the proceedings of the national assembly. The members of the parliament are supposed to stand on a higher moral pedestal and exhibit exemplary conduct while on national duty to represent the masses. They must focus on the legislative business and give top priority to national interests whether they belong to the ruling party or the opposition. But regrettably, the situation is quite contrary to it. The forum of the national assembly is being used to hurl invectives at each other, disrupting the proceedings of the house and creating rumpus. One gets a sickening feeling to witness the conduct of the members of the parliament.

In this regard, I would like to mention the incident in the parliament in the recent past when Bashir Cheema belonging to PML(Q) used obscene and unacceptable language against a lady member of the house Zartaj Gul. It was an ultimate act of shame. Reportedly when he was making a speech in the assembly Zartaj Gul repeatedly interrupted him and kept reminding him of the incident of harassment of women and their sexual exploitation at Bahawalpur University in which the son of Cheema was allegedly involved. When he finished his speech and after meeting Ali Muhammad Khan was returning to his seat Zartaj Gul again made some incendiary remarks. That enraged Mr Cheem and he went up to her and whispered some filthy words in her ear. That enraged other legislators of SIC who ran towards Cheema jumping over the desks to thrash him. However, the situation was saved from turning into an ugly incident through the intervention of some members of the parliament.

The episode invoked condemnation of the indiscretion committed by Mr. Cheema from both sides. Though Cheema apologized to Zartaj later on under pressure from the treasury and opposition benches and the lady accepted the apology the assembly adopted a motion moved by SIC for suspending Cheema from the current session of the assembly.

The incident manifested the fact that our legislators were not well conversant with the parliamentary practices and principles of conduct by the members of the assembly. When a member is given the floor by the speakers others are not supposed to interrupt him and if they find anything worth replying they can do so on their turn or rising on a point of order. Throwing taunts and attempts to shame the member holding the floor is against the norms of parliamentary conduct and traditions. In the first place, Zartaj Gul should have refrained from taunting Mr Cheema and making unpalatable remarks against him. Mr Cheema should have also shown some grace and avoided stepping over the mark by restricting himself to only a proportionate response or even neglecting the provocation from a lady in conformity with traditional social courtesy towards women.

Members sitting on both sides must realize that the public did not send them to the parliament to fight duels but to resolve their problems and winch the country out of the quagmire it is stuck in. They must learn to build working relations with each other and strengthen democratic norms. The country needs that badly. Politicking can wait for better times.

The writer is a former diplomat and freelance columnist.

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