A facade with the names of the daily newspapers "The News International" and "Jang Daily" is seen Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on June 28, 2018. Jang Media Group CEO Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman was arrested today over a 34-year-old land dispute. (AFP/Aamir Qureshi)
A facade with the names of the daily newspapers "The News International" and "Jang Daily" is seen Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on June 28, 2018. Pakistan's High Court indicted three The News International journalists in connection to their coverage of local officials. (AFP/Aamir Qureshi)

Islamabad High Court to indict three Pakistani journalists for criminal contempt

Washington, D.C., January 5, 2022 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed grave concern over the Islamabad High Court’s decision to indict Pakistani journalists Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Aamir Ghauri, and Ansar Abbasi, calling it a dangerous attack on press freedom and freedom of expression.

On December 28, 2021, the Islamabad High Court decided to indict Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, owner and editor-in-chief of the Jang Media Group–which owns the English-language newspaper The News International; Aamir Ghauri, editor of The News International; and Ansar Abbasi, investigations editor of The News International, for criminal contempt of court in relation to a November 15 investigative report by Abbasi, according to The News International, news reports, a statement by the Pakistan Press Foundation, and Abbasi, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. The report included the content of a notarized affidavit accusing the former chief justice of Pakistan of judicial interference in a corruption case involving former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz, according to those sources.

The court appointed Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan as the prosecutor in the case to pursue charges and set an indictment date of January 7, when the court is scheduled to frame, or precisely inform, the nature of the contempt charges against the three journalists, according to those sources.

“The Islamabad High Court’s decision to indict journalists Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, Aamir Ghauri, and Ansar Abbasi is a disturbing act of retaliation for reporting a matter of public interest,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The decision creates a dangerous judicial precedent that could lead to further retaliation against journalists who are simply doing their jobs.”

On the same day that The News International published Abbasi’s investigative report, the Islamabad High Court initiated contempt of court proceedings under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003, by issuing notices to the three journalists to appear before the court the next day in relation to the report, according to Dawn.

On December 28, Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued an order stating that the journalists had committed criminal contempt of court because the affidavit was not part of any court proceedings, and that freedom of expression protections did not apply to cases pending in courts, according to The News International.

If convicted of criminal contempt of court, the three journalists could face up to six months of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$566), according to the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003.

On January 1, Abbasi filed an application before the Islamabad High Court seeking the modification of Chief Justice Minallah’s December 28 order, claiming that it falsely stated that Abbasi said that he would publish untrue facts intended to influence the outcome of pending judicial proceedings if it was in the public interest, according to The News International and Dawn.

The application also stated that Abbasi had verified the existence and authenticity of the affidavit prior to his investigative report’s publication, but not the allegations made in the affidavit, according to those reports.

CPJ called and emailed the Islamabad High Court and called and messaged Attorney General Khalid Javed Khan for comment but did not receive a reply.

Rehman was detained from March 12, 2020, to November 9, 2020, on allegations that he illegally leased land in 1986, according to CPJ documentation and news reports.