Time for a legal drama in Pakistan?

I can’t help but continuously wonder; would Asma Jahangir be less misunderstood if people were educated about legal reasoning and principles?

Despite all odds and for a deeply polarised society, Pakistan has a vibrant pop culture. But what role does pop culture play in educating masses? Especially at a times like this when political highs and lows dominated by judicial activism continue to divide people. Chief Justice making televised public appearances, widespread popularity of terms such as ‘Sicilian mafia’ and ‘Godfather’ used by the judges, Chief Justice’s Winston Churchill-inspired “a speech should be like a woman’s skirt. It should not be too long and neither too short that it doesn’t cover the subject” remark, the Calibiri font showdown, lawyers hurling allegations against each other – or shooting each other dead in trial courts for that matter – and the lawmakers’ backed efforts to bring back public executions, these are some examples that have left many Pakistanis glued to their TV screens but they can barely make sense of it all. Would it have helped our young fledgling democracy if courtroom TV dramas were a part of Pakistan’s pop culture like they are in many other countries?

A social media meme mocking the Chief Justice’s decision in Panama case

A social media meme calling Chief Justice the ultimate truth and Nawaz Sharif the ultimate falsehood

Legal dramas and films are a part of pop culture in many countries. Take the United States (US) for example; be it a classic like The Practice or Law and Order or a more modern drama like Suits or Emmy, Oscar and Tony winner Viola Davis starrer How to Get Away with Murder, their legal shows are loosely based on real legal situations and are hugely popular in outside the US as well. India is another example where shows like Adaalat run for years. Not to mention the Bollywood flix like Amitabh Bachan’s Pink, Arshad Warsi’s Jolly LL.B. and Sunny Deol’s Damini.

Although we have a lot of crime shows in Pakistan, the closest thing we had to a courtroom drama was Samaa TV’s Court Number 5 show with over-acting re-enactments. We should have more… the kinds that would help audience understand legal concepts and help fight jingoism.

An episode of Samaa TV’s Court Number 5 show

The kind of jingoism that our heroes like Asma Jahangir fought against. While the world is turning its back on the death penalty, Pakistan not only brought it back in full swing after the horrific Army Public School (APS) Peshawar terror attack, its legislators and public figures are competing against each other to see who comes up with more gruesome and creative ways of executing the convicts. This has come to the point of recommendations of televised executions.

Asma Jahangir was regarded as a moral compass also because she knew how to separate emotions from law. And she was very vocal against creeping jingoism into legal matters. She knew how to drive and steer the legal discourse even in the face of a national tragedy. She advocated due process instead of jumping the guns and it was one of the reasons she was misunderstood by many.

Take her tweet from a little over two weeks before her death for example. She received a huge backlash for merely being the voice of reason – perhaps the only one – saying “Have our legislators lost it? Wanting to restore public hanging instead of reforming the criminal justice system? The world is moving towards abolition of death penalty and we are trying to restore the memory of Zia Recall Pupu hanging It did not end crimes against children.”

In Zainab murder case, there were media reports that the culprit – now pronounced guilty by an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) – Imran Ali’s own lawyer refused to represent him on the grounds that his conscience didn’t allow him to represent a murderer. To know whether this was a right call by the lawyer, I asked prominent youth leader and rights activist Jibran Nasir and he said “a lawyer can decide which case to take and which not. However if anyone accused of a crime punishable by death does not have a lawyer then it is State’s responsibility to provide them with same. I think the lawyer left because Imran confessed in Court that he committed the crimes.”

I asked another prominent rights activist and founder of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Nighat Dad the same and she said “in my opinion, this was morally a good decision by the lawyer. And this isn’t the only case where we have seen that lawyer withdrawing the case for reasons whatsoever. We have the example of Axact case where Zahid Jamil refused from representing Shoaib Sheikh. While the nature of the case was different.”

On the question of lawyers’ role in educating the public on legal principles, she said “I don’t think lawyers were ever educating people on legal principles. While it is important that someone does take the responsibility to educate people but I believe the onus doesn’t come on the lawyers alone.”

So maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world… leaving it to the TV dramas to educate people. I can’t help but continuously wonder; would Asma Jahangir be less misunderstood if people were educated about legal reasoning and principles? But above all, wouldn’t it be fun seeing an episode of a legal TV drama based on Nawaz Sharif’s famous ‘mujhay kyun nikala’ outcry?

The writer is the Digital Editor, Daily Times and can be reached at me@farhanjanjua.com. He tweets and instagrams @FarhanJanjua

A version of this article was published in Daily Times, February 25th, 2018.