After working so hard to coax its legislators back to parliament, the government managed to irk the Muttahida Qaumi Movement with a law officer telling the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the gag order on Altaf Hussain was not an interim order, but a final one.
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Also on Tuesday, the court asked Mr Hussain to consider approaching the Lahore High Court (LHC) — where the case is still pending — to obtain an interpretation on whether the Sept 7 ban on airing his speeches in the media still stands.
A Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice Ejaz Afzal and Justice Qazi Faez Isa, had taken up a plea moved by the MQM chief, who resides in London, seeking the suspension of the LHC order because it violated his right to freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution. The LHC had ordered authorities to ban all kinds of media coverage of the MQM chief, accepting the petitioner’s contention that “objectionable speeches and anti-state slogans” are not protected under the ambit of free speech. Additional Attorney General Waqar Rana, while giving the example of the Musharraf treason trial before a special court on Tuesday, argued that the LHC’s Sept 7 verdict was not an interim order, but a final one.
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The stance, however, disappointed the MQM, which has only just returned to parliament after a long-drawn absence from legislatures over what it terms “excesses meted out to party workers” in the Karachi operation. At the last hearing on Oct 30, the Supreme Court had sought legal assistance on the question of whether the high court gag order still held the field when it was not extended further by subsequent court orders. The decision to seek assistance on this point was made because stays granted by the high court under Order 39, Rule 2A of the Civil Procedure Code could only be issued for 15 days. But subsequent orders of the high court were silent about the fate of the interim order since nothing was said about it afterwards.