Anyone ‘curtailing press freedom must be held accountable’

Tribune

Justice Isa says a free, robust press is ‘backbone of a democracy’
ISLAMABAD:
Justice Qazi Faez Isa of the Supreme Court has said that anyone curtailing freedom of speech is an enemy of the people and of the Constitution, and must be held accountable.
Addressing an oath-taking ceremony of the executive body of the Press Association of Supreme Court on Monday, Justice Isa said, “A free and robust press is the backbone of a democracy. It serves both as a conscience and as a mirror. Without a free press, democracy quickly descends into an empty word, with its principles reduced to hollow ideas. Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have suppressed the press and imposed censorship.”
Justice Isa believes that violating fundamental rights is a violation of the Constitution.
“In Pakistan freedom of the press is stipulated as a Fundamental Right. Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution are not favours which may be bestowed on the people.
“Obedience to the Constitution is the inviolable obligation of every citizen; anyone curtailing it is an enemy of the people and of the Constitution, and must be held accountable.”
Justice Isa said that when citizens fight for press freedom, they fight for their own rights, adding that if the people surrender their right to free speech and expression or permit the censorship of the press, it will not be long before other guaranteed freedoms are taken away.
“A free press is vital to disseminate the voice of the people. It is also necessary to expose injustice, wrongdoing, corruption and highhandedness. Almighty Allah also enjoins that we speak up against injustice, wrongdoing and corruption; to countenance restrictions on free speech and expression offends an essential article of the Islamic faith,” he added.
He said that there may be times when one is absolutely certain of the validity of one’s views, but even disagreeable speech and expression of others must not be curbed.
Justice Isa also referred to Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression, as a fundamental right.
“The Constitution, enacted on April 12, 1973, by the peoples’ elected representatives guarantees the enforcement of all Fundamental Rights; a reiteration of the vision of Pakistan envisaged in the 1949 Objectives Resolution, which included freedom of thought and of expression. The 18th Amendment added another Fundamental Right to the Constitution, Article 19A – the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance. This addition made freedom of speech and expression and the freedom of the press more effective. The Federation and each province enacted laws that provide the mechanism enabling citizens to obtain information.”
Justice Isa noted that a vigilant and courageous press provides a public service.
He said that informed citizens, including journalists, can better identify wrongdoing in governance and demand accountability. “And, if those exercising power know that they are subject to public scrutiny, they are less likely to abuse power. Without these mechanisms, corruption and misgovernance can run unquestioned and unchecked.”
He also noted that Reporters Without Frontiers publishes the World Press Freedom Index evaluating 180 countries and ranks them according to the prevalence of press freedom.
“Its rankings reveal that we are not living up to what Pakistan’s Founders wanted. In 2017 and 2018, Pakistan stood at the very low 139th position in terms of the Freedom Index, it then slipped to 142nd position in 2019 and then took the plunge to a shameful 145th position.”

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