ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President, Abid S Zubairi, Thursday challenged the issuance of notices by the audio leaks inquiry commission to the general public and persons named in the alleged audio recordings, without first determining the legality and admissibility of the leaks.
He filed a petition in the apex court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, requesting the Supreme Court to suspend the operation of the notification constituting a judicial commission to probe the veracity of the recent audio leaks. He prayed for suspension of the proceedings of the inquiry commission or any order passed by it. Zubairi has made the Federation of Pakistan through secretary Cabinet Division, inquiry commission through secretary, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Media through chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority through chairman as respondents. The federal government, on May 19, through a notification, constituted a three-member judicial commission, headed by Justice Qazi Feaz Isa and comprising Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court Justice Naeem Akhtar Afghan and Chief Justice Islamabad High Court Justice Aamir Farooq. The commission was constituted under Section 3 of the Commission on Inquiry Act.
The SCBA president questioned as to whether unverified audio recordings, obtained through illegal or alleged phone tapping/ interception from an anonymous source, could be given coverage on press, social and broadcast media. Whether the alleged audio leaks mentioned in the notification dated May 19, 2023 is lawful as it fails to mention the source of such alleged audio leaks and particulars of the person making the alleged recordings.
If so, whether the commission could pass the order, issued on May 22, 2023 without first determining the legality and admissibility of such alleged audio leaks? He questioned as to whether any surveillance including “phone tapping/ phone interception” of citizens could be carried out by the Federation of Pakistan without first obtaining a warrant from a judge of the high court as required by Section 9 of the investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2013 and whether any recording, obtained in violation thereof, could be relied on for any legal proceedings?
“Whether alleged audio leaks referred to in the notification have been procured in violation of Article 14 of the Constitution, 1973 and the prevalent law i.e. Investigation for Fair Trial Act, 2013.”
The petitioner submitted that on February 16, 2023, three alleged snippets of audio recordings of telephonic conversations were uploaded on a Twitter account with the handle “indibell@indibell.
He submitted that these three audio recordings were allegedly between (1) an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan with former chief minister Punjab Pervaiz Elahi, (2) Petitioner and ex-chief minister Punjab, Pervaiz Elahi and (3) a serving judge of this court and ex-chief minister Punjab, Pervaiz Elahi.
“The said recordings were given wide coverage in the press. Subsequently in the evening of February 16, 2023, a press conference was held by the interior minister in relation to the said alleged phone recordings,” Zubairi informed the court.
He submitted that on the basis of these alleged audio recordings, insinuations were made that the ex-chief minister Punjab was attempting to influence judicial proceedings in the Supreme Court of Pakistan; however, there was complete silence regarding the legality, authenticity, source and manner of recording of such alleged audios.
“On the same day, I promptly issued a press statement [dated 16-2-2023] bearing reference No. PRE/SCBAP/503 on the letterhead of my office i.e. President, Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, categorically stating that the audio recording mentioned at Serial No. 2 in Paragraph 1 of this Petition is doctored,” Abid Zubairi contended, adding that the contents of the press statement are reiterated but not repeated here for the sake of brevity.
The petitioner submitted that these unverified alleged phone recordings have continuously been strategically released on random social media accounts, without disclosing their source and manner of recording with the clear aim of not only influencing pending judicial proceedings but also to adversely affect perception of the judiciary.
Similarly, he contended that whilst passing the order dated 22-5-2023 the learned commission, with utmost respect, has totally ignored the legality, constitutionality and admissibility of the alleged audio recordings.
“No direction was issued to the attorney general to submit details relating to the person(s) who made the aforesaid audio recording and/or to produce the original recording and the person recording it,” the petitioner contended.
Zubairi submitted that the burden lies on the federal interior minister to establish the legality and admissibility of the alleged audio recording as it is the interior minister that has issued the impugned notification dated 19-5-2023 and formed the commission whereas the commission could not have issued notices to the general public and the persons named in the alleged recordings, without first determining the legality and admissibility of the same.
“It is well settled by now that phone tapping and/or phone interception of citizens of Pakistan is not permissible in Pakistan (reliance placed on PLD 1998 SC 388) and any such phone recording is unconstitutional being violative of Article(s) 9 and 14 of the Constitution, 1973 and inadmissible for the purposes of initiating any proceedings.”
Meanwhile, Muqtedir Akhtar Shabbir, Secretary Supreme Court Bar Association, also filed a petition in the apex court under Article 184(3) of Constitution making Federation, Judicial Commission, PEMRA and PTA as respondents. He prayed to the apex court to declare the impugned notification of the government of May 19 as illegal, arbitrary, mala fide, without jurisdiction and in violation of Article(s) 9, 14, 18, 19 & 25 r/w 4 of the Constitution, besides declaring as illegal and without jurisdiction, the orders passed by judicial commission on May 22 on audio leaks. He further prayed to the apex court to declare that the alleged audio recordings mentioned in the impugned notification dated 19-5-2023 are illegal, in violation of Article(s)9, 14, 18, 19 & 25 r/w 4 of the Constitution. Furthermore, he prayed to the apex court to set aside notification dated May 19, 2023 issued by the Federation as well as the proceedings, initiated by the inquiry commission, formed in pursuance of the notification.