Monday, 8 December 2014

The Giglit verdict and beyond, Mr Salim Haq

The Giglit verdict and beyond, Mr Salim Haq
New Delhi, Dec. 6, (ANI):
On November 25, 2014, the anti-terrorism court in Gilgit delivered a judgment that has huge implications for the Kashmir issue, but has unfortunately gone largely unnoticed in India.
The court sentenced the owner of the Jang-GEO group Mir Shakeelur Rehman, host of GEO TV's morning show "Utho Jago Pakistan" Shaista Lodhi, actress Veena Malik and her husband Malik Asad to 26-year imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1.3 million each for hurting religious sentiments. The show was broadcast in May 2014 and featured Malik dancing with her husband while musicians sang a devotional song.

The judgment has stunned the legal and political fraternity of Pakistan because it goes far beyond the people involved in the case.

The verdict has three dimensions:
Eminent legal experts, including Aitzaz Ahsan, Akram Sheikh, Asma Jehangir, and the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) have criticized the judgment on legal grounds - (a) The Gilgit-Baltistan courts have no jurisdiction outside that area and cannot proceed against a citizen of Pakistan; (b) Pakistani courts have dismissed 75 other FIRs against the accused in various places, including Karachi where Geo is located; (c) Any issue relating to broadcast on the electronic media can only be dealt with by PEMRA, the regulator, that had, in fact, suspended GEO TV's license for one month over the blasphemy allegation; (d) The judgment was awarded in absentia and without even hearing the accused. This is illegal under several Supreme Court judgments and raises concerns about the fairness of the trial; (e) 

The same programme was broadcast by other channels repeatedly - without facing any punishment.
If the judgment was not bad enough in terms of law, it was worse as far as media freedom is concerned and is being seen as a continuing attempt to silence free media, especially GEO.
The bottom-line is that the case having been dismissed in the courts of Pakistan, recourse was taken to the more pliable court in Gilgit to punish the GEO/Jang group. The anti-GEO forces have struck again, this time in the form of an anti-terrorist court in Gilgit.

The verdict has also drawn international condemnation with human rights organisations expressing worry for media freedom in Pakistan as well as questioning the fairness of the trial. Amnesty International said in a statement that the sentence would have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Pakistan.

Finally, and perhaps crucially, the judgment has put into focus the constitutional status or lack thereof of Gilgit-Baltistan and again raised the issue of its controversial legal status.
Former Chief Justice of the POK High Court Abdul Majid Malik stated that the Gilgit Court had no jurisdiction, as Gilgit-Baltistan is not a constitutional part of Pakistan, adding, "Primarily Gilgit-Baltistan is the historic and geographical part of Jammu and Kashmir state as accepted by Pakistan in the United Nations and its acknowledgement by the UN resolutions on Kashmir issue," he said. "But on the account of the delay in the settlement of the Kashmir problem through plebiscite in the light of the UN resolutions, it was deemed expedient by the government of Pakistan to give it a status under the Pakistan President's Governance Ordinance, in 2009. Since then, Gilgit-Baltistan is administered through its elected council, chief minister and the governor."

Further, the official spokesman of the government Federal Information Minister Pervez Rasheed, in response to a question on the verdict, said that the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Constitution does not extend to Gilgit-Baltistan. "The jurisdiction of our constitution is not beyond Pakistan's boundaries", Rasheed said.

All along, Pakistan has been trying to convince the international community that the areas under its control- Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, that includes so-called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, were settled issues because the people here had voluntarily joined Pakistan. The only 'dispute' was about the area under Indian control i.e Jammu and Kashmir.
The reaction of the legal and political fraternity in Pakistan to the judgment clearly underlines that the opaque status of these areas in that they have neither been merged into Pakistan nor are they part of the territorial limits of the country.
The controversy now raised thus puts paid to Pakistan's creeping efforts to absorb Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province.
Internationally, now whenever Pakistan takes up the issue of J-K, it will have to be reminded that J-K includes the entire former princely state of J-K as it existed in August 1947 and not only the portion with India.
Interestingly, China has walked into this issue with a statement on Dec 02, 2014 describing Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) as "Pakistan's".
China has agreed to build an ambitious economic corridor through the region linking Xinjiang to the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The corridor, which includes a plan to expand the Karakoram Highway and build a railway link through PoK, has been backed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as part of his new "Silk Road economic belt" pet project.
China would be just as embarrassed as Pakistan with this verdict because it shows conclusively that this massive investment is taking place in and though a territory that is not even Pakistan's to begin with.
This should give China a lot of food for thought.
The views expressed in the above article are those of Mr Salim Haq. (ANI)

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