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Imran moves SC for probe into audio leaks

Our Correspondent
Friday, Oct 21, 2022

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan moved the Supreme Court on Thursday to form a joint investigation team or a commission to probe illegal surveillance, recording, retention, custody, and release/leaking of data, with directions to determine the authenticity of audio leaks.

He filed a petition in the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution, making interior, defence, information technology and telecommunication, information and broadcasting secretaries, Intelligence Bureau, FIA director-generals, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority chairman and Inspector General of Police as respondents.

The PTI chairman prayed to the apex court to issue a mandamus to supervise the whole process to ensure that the JIT or commission satisfactorily completes its task, illegal surveillance is put to a permanent end, surveillance data is identified, retrieved, secured and then destroyed, if need be, and appropriate action is taken against the culprits.

He also prayed the apex court to direct the government and all relevant agencies and authorities to take all necessary steps to prevent the release, publication, dissemination, sharing, broadcast, and spread of any of the surveillance data, including further use of audio leaks.

Imran Khan prayed to the apex court to declare that impugned actions, in particular, illegal surveillance of PMO and PMH and release of the data, especially through audio leaks, are unconstitutional and in violation of the law.

He submitted that over the last few weeks, social media platforms and broadcast media have been inundated with leaked clips of various audio conversations carried out at the Prime Minister’s Office and Prime Minister’s House.

The petitioner stated that “many of these audio leaks have been fabricated or tampered with by trimming, cannibalising, and/or piecing together distinct parts of the conversation(s) to convey an incorrect and inaccurate message.”

He stated that the actual audio can be presented to this court on a USB drive, along with their transcripts, if necessary. He submitted that it has been claimed that vast amounts of such data are available for sale over the “dark web”, for which the alleged hacker(s) is demanding millions of US dollars.

He informed the court that the conversations that take place at the PMO and PMH are often sensitive. In particular, conversations that take place over the secured telephone lines at these places are almost always so.

“They cover, amongst others, subjects of national security, strategic planning, foreign relations, economy and other confidential matters, which can be classified as state secrets,” the petitioner submitted, adding that the mere notion that data as to such sensitive matters was not only recorded through illegal surveillance but has ended up in the hands of unknown elements is, to say the least, gravely unnerving.

The former premier submitted that the instant petition is being filed before this court to invoke its extraordinary constitutional jurisdiction given the extreme sensitivity of the issue at hand and the grave threat to national interest which can jeopardise the fundamental rights of all the citizens of Pakistan.

“This case is a fit case for exercise of jurisdiction by this court,” the petitioner contended, adding that he has been the prime minister of Pakistan; he resided in the PMH, and he used PMO for conducting the business and affairs of the state for over three and a half years.

He submitted that illegal surveillance, which has now come to his knowledge to be a serious violation of the law and the Constitution, has affected his rights, particularly since some portions of the audio leaks are being tampered with and released to the public in an attempt to malign and stigmatise the petitioner and undermine his standing in the estimation of the public.

Imran Khan questioned whether the secret and unauthorised tapping of phones at and/or recording of conversations in the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s offices and their subsequent unauthorised release into the public domain posed a grave threat to national security and violated the Constitution and applicable law.

And whether the aforesaid actions, as well as the government’s failure to take adequate remedial steps against them, gravely prejudice and abridge the fundamental right of citizens to have constitutional governance in the country based on a system of the rule of law?

The PTI chairman further questioned whether there is any law in force in Pakistan that permits any authority, person, entity, or organisation to conduct surveillance of the PMO and PMH through phone tapping or bugging to record the conversations being held there. And if yes, is that law valid under the Constitution?

“While the petitioner was well known and enormously respected amongst the masses of Pakistan on account of his various accomplishments, his recognition as a statesman came through a long and arduous journey which he undertook to challenge those who had entrenched themselves as the dominant forces in the political arena of Pakistan and unlawfully enriched themselves enormously in the process,” Imran Khan submitted.

He submitted that while there was an earlier leak of a purported conversation of the petitioner’s wife (the petitioner’s position is that that audio clip is fabricated), the first audio purporting to be a recording of the petitioner’s conversation was leaked on Sept 28, 2022. A total of 12 such conversations have since been released on various social media platforms, including those of the sitting prime minister.

He submitted that “it is also clear from these released audio clips that a number of them have been doctored, manipulated, fudged, and tampered with, to change their content and context and portray the petitioner in a negative light.”

Notably, the PTI chairman submitted that the office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan is the highest executive office in the country. Sensitive and confidential matters are discussed within the PMO and PMH amongst the highest office-bearers in the country; strategic matters are debated and critical decisions on matters of national security are taken daily there.

He claimed that the government has not made any serious effort to prevent or curtail the release, publication, or spread of the audio leaks; no effort has been undertaken to repossess the leaked data from the publishers; and no measures have been undertaken to identify, stop, or punish the recorders.

He submitted that a few days after the first audio leak, the government formed a committee to oversee an investigation into the audio leaks. However, the formation of the said committee is only an eye-wash.

He recalled that the apex court had in the past initiated suo motu proceedings on the issue of illegal telephone tapping which, to the best of the petitioner’s knowledge and information, are currently pending.

Hence, the instant petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution is competent, Imran Khan contended, adding that the reasoning adopted by this court in Muhammad Yasin v. Federation of Pakistan, PLD 2012 SC 132, to explain the nexus between efficient and effective functioning of regulatory authorities and fundamental rights of citizens which guarantee their economic well-being is applicable a fortiori to the instant matter, which involves issues of national security and sovereignty and functioning of the highest executive office of the country.

He submitted that recourse to Article 184(3) of the Constitution is, in the facts and circumstances and light of the relief sought, the most efficacious and suitable remedy. Reliance is placed, in particular, on Watan Party v. Federation of Pakistan, PLD 2011 SC 997, Watan Party v. Federation of Pakistan, PLD 2012 SC 292, and Slackness in the Progress of Pending Enquiries Relating to Fake Bank Accounts, etc.