The federal government informed the Supreme Court (SC) on Friday that it has formed a committee pertaining to the compliance of the Faizabad sit-in case verdict.
The move comes days ahead of the next hearing, slated for November 1, of eight review petitions challenging the apex court’s 2019 judgment, then authored by now Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa.
The federal government, which had submitted an application before the top court to withdraw its review petition – along with other petitioners including the Ministry of Defence (ISI), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), after the case was fixed for hearing – has urged the court again to accept its plea for withdrawal.
The Centre apprised the court that a fact-finding committee has been formed comprising the additional secretaries of the ministries of defence and interior and the director of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). The committee held its first meeting on October 26 and will be presenting its findings to the Ministry of Defence on November 1, informed the state.
It further mentioned that in case an extension is needed by the committee to complete its task, it will seek time from the defence ministry.
Earlier, on September 28, the SC invited all persons and organisations to disclose facts pertaining to the Faizabad sit-in by October 27, 2023 as the court will resume proceedings on eight review petitions filed against the Feb 2019 verdict on November 1.
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In a written order, the court invited all individuals and parties – civil, private or governmental – to submit in writing through affidavits if they wish to disclose facts pertaining to the matter.
The court observed that “adjournments have been sought” and “certain parties are not in attendance” while “some have publicly stated that they knew what had happened, yet the judgment did not consider their point of view”.
“This is surprising given that it was noted in paragraph 17 of the judgment that: All the hearings in this case were conducted in open court. We had permitted those aggrieved and those whose interest may be affected to come forward and had also permitted them to file documents and written submission,” the apex court noted in its written order.
“In any event we are providing another opportunity to all to submit in writing through affidavits if they want to disclose facts pertaining to this matter. The learned AG (Attorney General of Pakistan) however states that the matter attends to events of a certain period and its scope should not be extended,” the written order stated.
In its written order, the top court recounted the questions that were raised at the previous hearing: Why the matter was not taken up by the apex court in the past four years? The simultaneous filing of these review petitions and the reason behind doing so. Whether constitutional and statutory bodies acted independently in filing the same. Whether, as claimed by some, the Feb 2019 judgment has been implemented.
Several review petitions were filed against the verdict authored by now Chief Justice of Pakistan Qazi Faez Isa on Feb 6, 2019. This judgment pertained to a sit-in staged by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in Faizabad in 2017.
In this scathing judgment, authored by Justice Isa, it directed the country’s intelligence agencies, including the ISI, IB, Military Intelligence (MI), and the army’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), not to exceed their constitutional mandate.
The judgment specifically addressed the role of intelligence agencies during a 20-day sit-in organised by the TLP at the intersection of Rawalpindi and Islamabad in Nov 2017. The TLP had initiated the protest in response to alleged changes made in lawmakers’ oath, affirming that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the last messenger of Allah, through the Elections Bill 2017 – during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) government. The protesters demanded the resignation of the then law minister Zahid Hamid.
These protests disrupted daily life in the twin cities for 20 days, leading to multiple rounds of negotiations between the government and protesters. Ultimately, Hamid resigned on Nov 27, 2017, meeting the TLP’s demands.
On Nov 21, 2017, the SC initiated suo motu proceedings regarding the sit-in. On Nov 22, 2018, a two-judge bench comprising Justice Isa and Justice Mushir Alam reserved their ruling. The SC unveiled its 43-page judgment authored by Justice Isa on Feb 6, 2019.
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In this 2019 judgment, Justice Isa emphasised that the Constitution explicitly prohibited members of the armed forces from engaging in any form of political activity, including supporting a political party, faction, or individual. The verdict directed the government of Pakistan, through the Ministry of Defence and the respective chiefs of the army, navy, and air force, to take action against personnel under their command found in violation of their oath.
Additionally, the judgment instructed the federal government to monitor individuals advocating hate, extremism, and terrorism, prosecuting them in accordance with the law. The judgment also included adverse observations about various government departments and public sector entities, as the 20-day sit-in severely disrupted life in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Further, the judgment highlighted that no entity, including government departments or intelligence agencies, could infringe upon the fundamental right of freedom of speech, expression, and press beyond the boundaries outlined in Article 19 of the Constitution. Justice Isa emphasised that those resorting to such tactics under the mistaken belief that they served a higher goal were deluding themselves.
He concluded by asserting that Pakistan is governed by the Constitution, and obedience to the Constitution and the law is the inviolable duty of every citizen, no matter where they are, and of every person within Pakistan at any given time.
At least eight review petitions were filed against the judgment shortly after it was issued.