–Court rejects reports submitted by ISI, PEMRA and ECP pertaining to 2017 violent protests by Tehreek-e-Labbaik
–Justice Isa questions ISI’s mandate after premier spy agency says not in its jurisdiction to produce TLP leaders tax details
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday questioned the government’s seriousness in pursuing the Faizabad sit-in case, as it rejected reports submitted by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) pertaining to the 2017 protests by religio-political parties.
A two-member bench of the apex court comprising Justice Mushir Alam and Justice Qazi Faiz Isa began hearing the matter on Friday.
During the hearing, Justice Isa questioned whether the country will be run under the constitution or through street power. “Peaceful protest is right of every citizen but violence will not be allowed,” he noted.
The judge said the protest sit-in had caused losses of billions and that the court wanted to know whether the persons “who can bring thousands of people” to the sit-in pay taxes.
“Can the ISI not even find out about the bank account of a person?” the judge wondered. He said the agency had said in response to the court’s query that it could not provide income tax details of the protest leaders and that it could be provided by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).
Justice Isa said if these things did not fall in the purview of the agency “then when [in the future] ISI interferes in other matters, we will ask: ‘is this ISI’s job?'”
The bench then wondered if it should summon the director general of the ISI or the defence secretary for an explanation.
Brigadier Falak Naz, the director of Ministry of Defence’s law branch, said the ISI could be asked to obtain the requisite details if the court so orders. “ISI looks after the national security [of the country],” he added.
“Is the sit-in not a matter of national security?” Justice Isa retorted, observing that the ISI was subservient to the country’s law and constitution.
After highlighting discrepancies, the top court directed all departments to submit fresh reports in the case.
The apex court also expressed its displeasure over the absence of attorney general of Pakistan from Friday’s hearing after Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mehmood made an adjournment request citing his absence.
Irked by the request, Justice Isa remarked that the case was not a non-serious affair. “The entire country was at a standstill during the sit-in,” he said. “The hearing date had been fixed upon the attorney general’s wishes. What urgent case did he have in Lahore?”
“The AGP is in Lahore. The chief justice had directed him to go to Lahore in connection to some cases,” Mehmood answered.
In response, Justice Isa remarked that “the court, not the chief justice issues directives. We are also part of the court and fixed this date on the wishes of the attorney general”.
“This is not a joke. Who pays the attorney general?” Justice Isa inquired. “The AGP is paid from the money received from citizens’ taxes,” answered the deputy attorney general.
“If his salary comes from tax deposits then he is answerable,” Justice Isa observed.
“If the government does not want to pursue this case then it should inform the court and bury it.”
“We should be told whether you [government] want to make Pakistan a working state and whether you want to run it as per the law or through street power,” he remarked.
Emphasising on the gravity of street politics, the judge asked whether Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had tendered an apology for the 2014 sit-in at Constitution Avenue – keeping in view the party failed to prove rigging allegations before the commission probing General Elections 2013.
Recalling the May 12 carnage in Karachi, Justice Isa observed that the matter was seldom spoken about “because a general was ruling the country at the time”.
On Thursday, The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) told the apex court that Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has not yet submitted the financial details of its election campaign during the 2018 general elections.
The protests and sit-in at Faizabad Interchange by TLP workers lasted for three weeks until an agreement was reached with the government on November 27, 2017.
In the same month, a suo motu notice of the sit-in was taken by the country’s top court in.
Earlier this month, the TLP held countrywide protests against the acquittal of Aasia Bibi — a Christian woman acquitted after eight years on death row for blasphemy — condemning the judges on the bench hearing Aasia’s case, the prime minister and the army chief.