UK courts become Waterloo for Pakistani Media Groups

The Pakistani media’s tendency to defame people at the behest of Pakistan’s establishment is getting pushback from the legal system in the United Kingdom. Pakistan is a virtually lawless land so suing there for defamation is impossible for those being targeted by the establishment Pakistani media. But since all major Pakistani channels are also seen by the vast Pakistani diaspora in the U.K., the British legal system provides a way for victims to seek some justice.

Last week Reham Khan, the broadcaster and ex-wife of Prime Minster Imran Khan, received libel damages and a public apology from Pakistani television channel Dunya News in connection with a defamatory television program broadcast in the UK on June 5, 2018. In that show, the establishment’s most abusive mouthpiece,  Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed, had accused Reham Khan of getting money from the PML-N leader Shehbaz Sharif to write her memoirs that did not show Imran Khan in good light and exposed his many hypocrisies.

Previously Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner of the Jang Group, had won a case against ARY News in 2018. As we wrote in New Pakistan at the time, ARY had called Mir Shakil an Indian agent on its shows and the poor man could do nothing about it in Pakistan. He then realized that ARY also runs in UK and decided to approach the British Office of Communications –an arbiter of fairness in media – and also to demand reparations through British courts. He won the case and ARY had to shut down its operations in UK.

Again in 2018, the fake news website exposed by Umer Ali in New Pakistan, Eurasiafuture.com,  and its website director Adam Garrie, issued an apology and retracted their story against Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman. Eurasia Futures had alleged that Geo and Jang Group Editor in Chief, Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman had links with Cambridge Analytica.

For years Pakistan’s establishment and its favoured media have run campaigns of intimidation against dissidents by describing them as ‘traitors’ or circulating other unsavory allegations against them. Pakistan’s spineless judiciary has never implemented the country’s libel and defamation laws effectively. In case of allegations backed by the establishment/army/ISI, the Pakistani Supreme Court has effectively inverted the principle that accusers must prove their accusation to ‘the accused must prove their innocence.’

Those winning cases are either based in the United Kingdom or have substantive ties to the UK, a key requirement for a libel case in British courts.  Mir Shakil and Reham Khan were able to take advantage of British laws to defend themselves but those not in the UK still have to endure abuse on Pakistani TV channels. In Pakistan, EU and the United States, defamation proceedings take longer and are more expensive. But if they were like UK courts, a lot of libel would end. 

Pakistan should eliminate Terrorism instead of using anti-Terrorism rules to limit Human Rights

The rise of terrorism has led to a rise in anti-terrorism regulations around the world. The problem this creates is the rise in bad laws and inhuman punishments. Pakistan is no exception to this phenomenon. According to leading human rights advocate and founder member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), I.A. Rahman “The world has learnt that the majesty of law is not established by curtailing due process and raising the scale of punishments; it is established by the people’s social uplift, guarantees of employment and fair wages, and by convincing the people that no one can avoid paying for breaking the law. Instead of putting the people at risk under bad laws, the executive should make policing and prosecution efficient and honest. Along with ATA, all other laws that clip due process and prescribe inhuman punishments need to be reviewed.”

Rahman notes that last week the Supreme Court of Pakistan “laid down the urgently needed guidelines on the applicability or otherwise of the antiterrorism law and asked parliament to make some essential changes to it. The judgement also offers much food for thought to jurists, students of law and civil society who interpret the rule of law as a rational, just and humanitarian dispensation. The issue before the court was whether the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was rightly being invoked. The landmark judgement begins with a fairly comprehensive account of terrorist movements and activities across the globe from 2 BC to the 1990s, launched to secure political, ideological or religious objectives. Students of terrorism will find it useful. The court then refers approvingly to Prof David Rapoport’s theory of four waves of terrorist movements, to emphasise the point that terrorists’ goals have been changing with time. An extract from Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century follows, which reassures us that the people can defeat terrorists if they do not overreact to the theatre of terrorism and offer a balanced response.”

Further, “The court’s conclusion and direction that all actions must be judged by the objective as defined in the ATA — that an action, however grave, gruesome or horrifying, cannot be termed as terrorism if it is not committed with the design and purpose as mentioned in the law itself, and that actions taken in furtherance of personal enmity or private vendetta cannot be described as terrorism —should prevent wrongful application of the ATA. The court has suggested that the definition of terrorism in the ATA may be made simpler and succinct along with a change in the preamble and deletion from the Third Schedule of offences that have no nexus with terrorism.”

Finally, as Rahman states, “Pakistan has an unenviable record of the executive’s insatiable desire to nibble at due process with a view to denying the people their basic rights and freedoms. The history of the state’s love of brutal punishments and its tendency to address serious crime by compromising due process makes painful reading. The state’s search for deterrent punishments and its fondness for harsh laws, the level of impunity enjoyed by law-enforcement personnel and disregard for the requisites of fair trial are alienating the people from what the system of justice has become. The fact that only the poor are hanged in Pakistan or that no perpetrator of murderous attacks on the Hazara Shias has been punished has undermined respect for the justice system, which is also weakened each time a citizen falls a victim to enforced disappearance or a woman is killed to save a man’s primitive concept of honour. The number of people preferring the jirga system to the judicial process appears to have increased over the years, and now they are visible in the corridors of power too.”

“Why are current and former Washington officials still so credulous about Pakistan?”

Pakistan has always ranked high among countries that suppress media freedom and where the deep state is known to intimidate journalists and media houses. Yet, every time a new individual takes over as Pakistan’s Prime Minister or Army chief there are people in the West who believe that this person will change things and Pakistan will become a more open society.

A November 2019 investigative piece by The Guardian titled ‘‘Extreme fear and self-censorship’: media freedom under threat in Pakistan,’ has on the one hand shown the world what most Pakistanis already know but it has also led to many folks in Washington DC expressing incredulity that under Imran Khan press freedoms have further shrunk.

When Mr Khan came to Washington DC in July 2019, he denied that his government was repressing the media and even claimed that the media was fairer in Pakistan than in the US or the UK! Many in DC refused to challenge him when he said that. Today the same folks who praised his coming to power in 2018 are surprised that things are worse. 

As The Guardian story notes “While Pakistan has a turbulent relationship with media freedom, under Imran Khan, elected as prime minister last year with strong backing from the military, censorship is felt heavier than ever before. Journalists, activists, authors and politicians spoke to the Guardian of a climate of “extreme fear and self-censorship”, and the suppression of opposition political voices, even worse than during the military dictatorship of General Zia, who oppressively ruled Pakistan between 1977 and 1988. Hussain’s account of direct involvement by the military and political authorities in censoring stories critical to the government was repeated by half a dozen journalists. The pressure was reportedly exerted both through direct edicts to editors and producers, to less direct but more costly interventions such as pulling TV stations from transmission, targeting advertising revenue of dissenting media or pulling newspapers from circulation. In many cases, the trend towards heavy censorship pre-dates Khan’s premiership, but he has been criticised for allowing it to continue, if not ramping it up. Dawn, Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper, suffered huge financial losses in June last year when the military restricted its distribution after they published leaks of secret military meetings. The censoring of critical voices is not only restricted to media. Last week, an exhibition at the Karachi Biennale by the artist Adeela Suleman, called The Killing Fields of Karachi, which addressed the extrajudicial deaths of 444 people at the hands of the police chief Rao Anwar, was raided by the authorities and ordered to be shut down. Senior management figures spoke anonymously of a draconian approach of collective punishment which was being inflicted on media organisations. If one reporter or news channel reported a story that threw the government into disrepute, the business interests of the media owners would be targeted or advertising funding withheld. The military’s hostility towards the media was demonstrated in June last year, when Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, the director general of the ISPR, singled out dozens of journalists for their “anti-Pakistan” activity on social media. He repeated the sentiment on his own Twitter account in July this year, calling out “irresponsible” journalists, which led to the hashtag #ArrestAntiPakjournalists to trend on Twitter in Pakistan, used more than 28,000 times.”

Maulana’s March Divides Pakistan, Scares Imran Khan

Despite its best efforts the Imran Khan government has been unable to stop the ‘Azadi March’ led by JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rahman and supported by all the other major opposition parties – the Awami National Party, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N. On Friday, over 35,000 people attended the rally addressed by Rahman.

On Thursday, the protestors moved into Islamabad. Since then, the federal capital is under tight security with the government and diplomatic sector – just a few kilometers from the rally site – sealed off, roads blocked by barriers of shipping containers. Schools remain closed, public transport suspended and internet services interrupted in some areas. “Authorities in Islamabad were seen early Saturday moving more rows of massive shipping containers onto roads leading to the Red Zone. Paramilitary forces were also deployed.”

Rahman “warned of chaos if the government does not step down, but on Friday told the crowd they would decide what action to take if their two-day sit-in at the rally site failed. He said he did not want confrontation with the military. “Now this government has to go but we don’t want a collision with institutions,” he said referring to the military. “We want to see the institutions being impartial.”

The rally was also addressed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of PPP and Shahbaz Sharif of PMLN, even though the two parties are officially not part of the sit-in.

Bilawal B Zardari in his speech, “said that even after 70 years, transparent elections cannot be held in Pakistan, adding that his party’s polling agents were expelled from polling stations during the General Elections 2018. “Selected government puts pressure on the nation,” said the PPP chairman, adding that people are being ‘economically murdered’. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari earlier on Friday night said the people of Pakistan won’t accept any ‘selected’ or ‘puppet’ prime minister and it was time for Prime Minister Imran Khan to go home. “The people of this country won’t accept any selected or puppet premier nor are they willing to surrender to any dictator,” said Bilawal, addressing the Azadi March in Islamabad.”

The military is still ostensibly supporting the Khan government. According to DGISPR, Maj. Gen Asif Ghafoor “Chaos is not in the interest of the country … all democratic issues should be dealt with in a democratic manner.” He said the opposition should understand that the army is impartial and supports the democratically elected government, not political parties.”

Naya Pakistan erodes Pakistan’s wealth

According to the latest Global Wealth Report issued by Credit Suisse, Pakistan is one of the biggest losers as the country’s wealth declined by $141 billion in 2018-19. The United States is at the top, followed by China, Japan, India and Brazil. Pakistan, along with Turkey, is one of the main losers.

According to the report Pakistan suffered one of the biggest currency depreciations against dollar of -24 percent. “The market capitalization in Pakistan dropped by 42pc, compounding the impact of exchange rate losses.”

The Pakistan army may try to shore up business morale, the Prime Minister’s advisers may talk about a resurgent economy and a better 2020 but as of now Pakistan is in a worse situation on the economic front than it was before Prime Minister Imran Khan took over