Any bar on media coverage of references hearing to raise doubts

ISLAMABAD: Transparency of trial of high profile references against deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others will be severely marred if Islamabad’s accountability court barred the media from covering it as per its professional calls to inform the public at large about it. Judge Mohammad Bashir did not permit reporters to be present in the hearing on references relating to the London flats and Al-Azizia Steel Mill on Thursday for his own reasons. As the media men made their way in his courtroom he asked them to leave it, saying that his staff will brief them about the proceedings. However, later when he issued a notice to Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar for appearance on September 20 in a reference alleging assets beyond legitimate means, he let the media men to attend the hearing. This happened after the TV channels ran the story that the accountability court has prohibited the journalists from covering the earlier proceedings.

Already suspicions and doubts are galore about the references having been filed against the former premier, Maryam, Hussain, Hassan, Capt (retd) Safdar and Dar. Any order of the accountability court forbidding the media to cover the proceedings or keeping them secret will reinforce the general perception about the whole process. It will raise serious questions about its transparency and genuineness.

Way back in 2000, the journalists were not restricted from reporting even on the proceedings of an accountability court that used to operate in the Attock Fort, trying Nawaz Sharif on different charges, although martial law was in force at the time, and the jurisdiction of the superior courts had been drastically cut back.

Even subsequently, no accountability court has ever held its proceedings in-camera. They conducted open trials as they were not military courts, whose hearings were held behind the closed doors to the exclusion of journalists. The fair trial and due process becomes the first casualty in secret hearings because nothing is publicly known about their veracity and there is always abundant cloak-and-dagger stuff available about such trials.

A reporter, who was among those ordered by the accountability court judge to leave the courtroom, said that if there was any written order from him to proceed in-camera, giving reasons for such decision, the media will file an application with him as well as the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to agitate it.  The journalist said that he and his colleagues were willing to go through the necessary security measures that may be put in place as they do while going to the Supreme Court. The judge has already written to the government to increase security on the occasion.

Since the accused persons, facing these references, filed by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on the direction of the Supreme Court on the basis of the Panama Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, are top popular political leaders, there are indications that a large number of their supporters, and the lawyers, backing them, will be showing up in the accountability court to express solidarity with them. This will call for increased security measures to avoid any unseemly situation.

The News International