Home Latest News AGP ‘Clarifies’ IHC Judge Letter Alleging Interference in Audio Leaks Case

AGP ‘Clarifies’ IHC Judge Letter Alleging Interference in Audio Leaks Case

Information minister maintains request for in-camera briefing on national security matters should not be construed as ‘interference’

by Staff Report

Screengrab of AGP Mansoor Awan’s video statement

The federal government on Tuesday rebutted the contents of a leaked letter, allegedly written to Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Aamer Farooq by Justice Babar Sattar, in which he accused security agencies of using “intimidatory tactics” during proceedings of the audio leaks case.

Earlier in the day, a brief extract of the letter was leaked on social media, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) projecting it as “proof” of “interference” in the audio leaks case. In the letter, Justice Sattar alleged writes that the court is examining whether existing laws permit surveillance of citizens. “At some point during the hearing of the case, I was delivered messages on behalf of top officials in the security establishment asking me to ‘back-off’ from extensive scrutiny of the existence and mode of surveillance,” it states, adding the judge had not paid any heed to these or found them detrimental to the administration of justice.

“The current malicious campaign’s focus on cases involving PTA [Pakistan Telecommunication Authority] appears to be an intimidatory tactic to influence court proceedings,” it added, referring to the social media campaign targeting Justice Sattar and members of his family.

Shortly after the portion of the letter was leaked, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Awan issued a video statement in which he noted this was an “internal communication” of the court. “The contents of that letter are being reported in such a way and the impression is being given as if there is interference in the IHC and that a message was sent to that judge regarding a specific case, or he understood it this way, or it was sent from such an individual which it should have not,” he said.

Stressing he felt it necessary to explain the situation, he said the judge had himself written he did not feel any intimidation from the message but “understood” it as an act of interference. “His [judge’s] reference in the letter was to the social media campaign,” he said, adding the media reporting was conveying the perception that there was some breakdown in relations between the judiciary and the executive.

Maintaining communication between different institutions was conveyed through the AGP’s office or the provincial advocate generals, he added: “I should make it clear regarding this case that a request was made that the briefing regarding our capability on surveillance and other matters about national security, internal and external, be made in-camera so it does not go into the public domain.” He said this was necessary in a country like Pakistan with numerous security concerns.

“A communication certainly happened but what unfortunately occurred was that the impression was somehow sent or understood as if the case should be taken in a particular direction. There was absolutely nothing of this sort,” he said, stressing neither the government nor any other state institution could interfere in the matters of judiciary. “I completely reject this perception,” he emphasized, clarifying that his office had communicated the request for an in-camera briefing to avoid making public sensitive information.

Subsequently, Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar and Information Minister Attaullah Tarar addressed a joint press conference in which they also lamented that the letter’s extract was giving an impression that Pakistan’s “intelligence or defense” agencies were interfering the working of judges.

Supporting the AGP’s statement, the law minister said it was a global practice to keep a state’s surveillance capability in-camera. “This is the reason why when you communicate through law officers or the officers of the AGP or advocate generals, then it is traditionally a better course for such requests to keep some matters in-camera,” he said, adding courts had traditionally accepted these requests and should continue to do so in the wider public interest.

“What I’m pained by is the interpretation of this matter in such a way that the impression was created as if there is interference in the judiciary,” he said, adding that an independent judiciary had some responsibilities in light of Pakistan’s context and challenges.

“All institutions should have some space for each other … we should work in our own domains,” he said, adding all burden of legislation, officials appointments, security policy cannot be placed on the judiciary for its input. “This is neither the Constitution’s will nor are countries like this. The country needs unity to escape this financial crisis,” he added.

The information minister, meanwhile, said the letter’s contents were not based on reality if they were referring to a message conveyed by the AGP, who is a state representative. “If a request was made for an in-camera briefing then it was for national security and I want to make it clear that there will be no compromise on national security,” he said.

Without naming Justice Sattar, he advised against taking things “this far,” adding it was incorrect to question the entire national security system based on one “misconstrued” matter. He also said such letters should not be used to highlight matters of national security.

“If you want to discuss some issue then the chief justice can summon a full court and you have full access. To write a letter to the chief justice of the same court with whom you have daily meetings is I think akin to making the issue controversial,” he said, reiterating that the AGP had clarified the matter in full.

“No one said to you to back off, only a request was made for an in-camera briefing,” he added.

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