[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged Pakistani judges on Tuesday to stop using contempt of court powers [press release] as a mechanism for silencing the media’s critique of the judiciary. Since 2009 when the independent judiciary was restored, Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the provincial high courts have reportedly attempted to muzzle the media’s criticism of the judiciary by threatening to use contempt of court proceedings, which could mean a prison sentence for journalists. Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said that the judiciary is not immune from criticism and should not be abusing their power to coerce and censor the media by curbing their freedom of expression. The judiciary was criticized when Malik Riaz, a real estate tycoon, publicly accused Arsalan Iftikhar, the son of Chief Justice Chaudhry, of threatening prosecution in order to extort millions of dollars from him. Further controversy ensued when the Supreme Court disqualified [JURIST report] Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani from office based on his refusal to bring criminal charges against the country’s president. According to HRW:
Journalists have told Human Rights Watch that major television stations and newspapers were informally advised by judicial authorities that they would be summoned to face contempt of court charges for criticizing or commenting unfavorably on judicial decisions or specific judges. In 2010 editors and former editors of several publications, including the English-language newspaper Dawn, faced contempt proceedings for publishing a story alleging misuse of office by the Sindh High Court chief justice, which was averted after their papers apologized publicly to the court.
Pakistan’s courts have been the subject of ongoing criticism for judicial overreach.
Last week, A Pakistani court ordered [JURIST report] police to drop blasphemy charges against a 14-year-old girl, which had sparked international concern over the use of the country’s controversial law. The girl was charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy law for allegedly burning pages for a Koran. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Pakistan retracted [JURIST report] a contempt of court charge filed against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf after approving notification of his compliance with a June directive that ordered the revival of corruption charges against President Asif Ali Zardari. Tensions between the country’s judiciary and executive branch remain strong amidst the government’s near year-long refusal to follow the high court’s order to probe corruption allegations against the president.