Let us look at the following chronology of events:
10th May – Fauzia Wahab appears on a program of Dunya News called “Dunya Today” with Moeid Pirzada with Roedad Khan and Ansar Abbasi as guests. In that program, Ansar Abbasi points towards Fauzia Wahab saying “in ka bus chale to humari gardan utaar dein’, (if it was up to her (Ms Fauzia Wahab), she would slit our throats).
15th May – Fauzia Wahab sends Ansar Abbasi a defamation notice (giving time of 14 days) under the terms of the Defamation Ordinance seeking damages of Rs 200 million or a public apology for his utterance
17th May – Ansar Abbasi appearing in the same program of Dunya News implies that he gets many legal notices but no one ever filed a suit against him
21st May – Ansar Abbasi and his Jang Group incite charges of blasphemy against Fauzia Wahab claiming that she compared the constitution with the Holy Quran. What happens next was near vigilante justice with calls for her being prosecuted; death threats being received;
6th June – Fauzia Wahab files suit against Ansar Abbasi in the Sindh High court which was listened to on an ex-parte basis. A stay was granted (read court order) against Ansar Abbasi till 21st June 2010 that he can now not give any statement or write against Fauzia Wahab
11th June – Ansar Abbasi’s legal counsel claims that the said “ex-parte order is not in accordance with Law and Constitution and legally erroneous and not sustainable under the law and is liable to be set-aside”. They also question the jurisdiction that the SHC was not the right forum and also that Dunya News nor the anchor of the program was given a notice. They also claim that the matter was not of grave urgency.
15th June – Contradicting the point that that the matter was not of grave urgency, Ansar Abbasi’s counsel approaches a division bench of the SHC seeking “instant dismissal” of ex-parte stay. What happens next is elaborated below:
The division bench of the SHC doesn’t accept the appeal of Ansar Abbasi even though it clarifies that “In the facts and circumstances of the case, we would dispose of this appeal by directing that the Appellant (Ansar Abbasi) is not restrained from practising his profession as a responsible journalist provided he remains within the parameters of Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, as referred to above”. The parameters of Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002 “the matter commented on is fair and in the public interest and is an expression of opinion and not an assertion of fact and was published in good faith”. In no way was Ansar Abbasi’s appeal accepted, however, it has been clarified that he can make comments based on facts (sidq-e-dil) and in public interest.
What was most surprising was the way the matter was reported in The News and Jang. In The News, it was reported that Ansar Abbasi’s plea was “accepted” and that there is no bar on him now while in Jang it was reported that “Sindh High Court kay division bench nay Hukm-e-Imtina kee tashreeh kartay huay appeal kharij kardee”.
You can read both the news items below and then make up your mind.
It is important to note that this case can potentially be a litmus test for the Defamation Laws in our country where journalists have been making stories which cannot be corroborated. Recently, another Federal Minister has given a notice to Dawn for publication of a story that he has benefited to the tune of Billions in the “grey telephony” matter.
We at LUBP have commented a number of times on the twisting of facts in form of opinions by journalists while the reporting of this case by the two most widely read newspapers in the country shows that how much variance is there in the reporting of facts by the media. 21st June will be an interesting day for some self-righteous members of our investigative journalism community who will eventually be given munsifi by the courts.
No restraint on Ansar Abbasi: SHC
Friday, June 18, 2010
KARACHI: A division bench of the Sindh High Court, while hearing an appeal relating to the defamation suit filed by Mrs. Fauzia Wahab against Editor Investigation, The News, Ansar Abbasi, has clarified and interpreted the earlier restraining order passed by the Honourable Single Judge, as not restraining Mr. Abbasi from pursuing his profession as a responsible journalist to express any of his views and opinions provided he does so in good faith, for bona fide reasons and in public interest.
On 15.6.2010, the Division Bench, while hearing Mr. Ansari Abbasi’s appeal, accepted the plea of his counsel to interpret the restraining order passed on 8.6.2010 as not barring him from expressing any views or opinions provided he does so in good faith, for bona fide reasons and in public interest.
Mr. Abbasi’s counsel drew the Honourable Court’s attention to Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance 2002, which provides that in defamation proceedings a person has a defence if he shows that the matter commented on is fair and in public interest and is an expression of opinion and not an assertion of fact and was published in good faith.
During the hearing, the counsel representing Mrs. Wahab vehemently opposed the plea of the counsel of Mr. Abbasi and sought dismissal of the appeal on the basis that the stay application was already fixed for hearing for 21.6.2010.
In the end, the Honourable Court ordered, “We have heard both the learned counsel. In the facts and circumstances of the case, we would dispose of this appeal by directing that the Appellant (Ansar Abbasi) is not restrained from practising his profession as a responsible journalist provided he remains within the parameters of Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, as referred to above.”
Explaining the order of the Division Bench, Ansar Abbasi’s counsel Jam Asif Mehmood said that at the very outset, he had submitted before the Division Bench that his client was not above the law and that the Honourable Single Judge had already fixed the stay application of the plaintiff (Fauzia Wahab) for hearing for June 21, 2010. He said that he argued before the court that it was not appropriate to place such a blanket restraint on such a senior journalist, and that this Honourable Division Bench may kindly dispose of the instant appeal by modifying or clarifying the ad interim restraining order to the extent that Mr. Ansar Abbasi was free to express his views and opinions and author any article if the same are bona fide or in public interest or in good faith. These rights are also available under Section 5(b) of the Defamation Ordinance 2002.
In response, he said, the counsel appearing for Mrs. Fauzia Wahab had sought dismissal of the appeal.
Jam said that the Honourable Division Bench while acceding to his request disposed of the appeal by clarifying that the said restraining order may not be treated as restraining the defendant (Mr. Ansar Abbasi) from expressing his views or opinions in any talk shows or publishing anything provided that the same was done bona fide or in public interest or in good faith, thereby confirming that Mr. Ansar Abbasi enjoyed all the rights under Section 5(b). Mrs. Fauzia Wahab’s counsel strongly opposed the grant of this request, Jam added.
Jam clarified that during the proceedings, he ensured that he did not make any adverse comments either against the present government or against the person of the plaintiff (Fauzia Wahab). Even after the order was announced, neither his client Ansar Abbasi nor his counsel issued any statement to the media. Mr. Jam added that even on June 21, 2010, whatever insults the opposite party might hurl at his client or the media group Mr. Abbasi works for, he would not say anything against the government or the person of the plaintiff. He would just oppose the stay application and submit his arguments purely on the basis of law.
He said that before a courtroom full of lawyers, Fauzia Wahab’s counsel, appearing without notice, openly launched attacks against the defendant (Ansar Abbasi), the newspapers that he writes for and also the media group he works with.
Jam said that it is odd that immediately after the announcement of the above order, while he and his client and the newspaper for which Mr. Abbasi writes remained silent about it to wait for the written order, text messages, including those from a mobile phone number of a senior PPP leader, were sent to senior journalists, wrongly and mischievously claiming that the Honourable Divisional Bench headed by Honourable Chief Justice of Sindh High Court had ‘dismissed’ Ansar Abbasi’s appeal. Such messages, Jam said, were also forwarded to his client Mr Abbasi by some leading journalists and anchorpersons. Jam said that his client has saved all such messages.
It may be noted that PPP’s spokesperson Mrs. Fauzia Wahab has filed a suit against Ansar Abbasi claiming damages of Rs200m for having defamed her in a programme of a TV channel. While the programme was recorded in Islamabad, it was broadcast from Lahore.
The plaintiff has not made sponsors or the host or any other person of the TV channel as defendant. It was on Mrs. Wahab’s application, argued by her son Barrister Murtaza Wahab, that the Honourable Justice Maqbool Baqar of Sindh High Court passed restraining order against Ansar Abbasi.