Human Rights Watch says Pak judges muzzling media persons over criticism

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 27, 2012 11:30 hrs

Pakistan's judges should cease using their contempt of court powers to prevent the media from airing programming critical of the judiciary, according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The HRW said that ever since Pakistan's independent judiciary was restored to office in 2009, the judiciary has repeatedly sought to prevent its criticism in the media through threats of contempt of court proceedings, which can bring prison terms, reports The Dawn.

The statement from the HRW added that since Oct 2012, the high courts in Islamabad and Lahore have been issuing orders to stop the broadcast of television programs criticising the judiciary.

"Judges sworn to uphold the rule of law should not be using their broad contempt powers to muzzle criticism by the media. Judges have no special immunity from criticism. Unless they want to be seen as instruments of coercion and censorship, they should immediately revoke these curbs on free expression," said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director.

The HRW added that recently, courts in Pakistan had openly issued a spate of orders that sought to limit the media's free expression rights.

The HRW said that major television stations and newspapers were informally advised by judicial authorities that they would be summoned to face contempt of court charges for criticising or commenting unfavourably on judicial decisions or specific judges.

"No branch of government, including the courts, should be immune from public opinion in a democratic society. Pakistan's judges have demonstrated the independence to hold the government accountable. But their credibility will be lost so long as they fight against scrutiny and accountability of the judiciary itself," Adams said. (ANI)

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