Human Rights Watch accused Pakistan’s high judges on Tuesday of trying to prevent the media from airing programs critical of the judiciary.
Since 2009, Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and provincial courts have attempted to quash reporting that criticizes their courts or judges, claimed Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Last month, high courts in Lahore and Islamabad ordered a halt to the broadcasting of programs critical of the country’s court system. In Islamabad, the High Court told regulators to stop the broadcast of material slamming Chief Justice Chaudhry and several other judges.
“Judges have no special immunity from criticism,” HRW’s Brad Adams said in a statement. “Unless they want to be seen as instruments of coercion and censorship, they should immediately revoke these curbs on free expression.”
The Islamabad High Court justified the order, saying the ban was “to ensure that no programme containing uncommendable, malicious, and wicked material is telecast by any of the channels,” and that no judges are “criticized, ridiculed, and defamed,” according to HRW.
Media workers told the New York-based rights group that major newspapers and television broadcasters have been told informally by judicial authorities that they would face contempt of court charges if they criticize judges or judicial decisions.
Pakistan’s judiciary was lauded for toppling unelected military President Pervez Musharraf in 2008, leading to the country’s current democratic system, but since then, it has consolidated more and more power.
In June, the Supreme Court handed down an order to force former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani out of office after it said he was guilty of contempt, highlighting the amount of power the judiciary wields. Gilani had refused to open corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari.
Adams said that “Judges sworn to uphold the rule of law should not be using their broad contempt powers to muzzle criticism by the media.”
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