Rights group urges Pakistan judges to stop censoring media

ISLAMABAD,  (Reuters) – An international human rights group urged Pakistan judges today to stop using their powers to censor media critical of the judiciary.

Over the last two months, judges have threatened several media executives and journalists with contempt of court if they published reports criticizing the judiciary, New York-based Human Rights Watch said.

“Judges have no special immunity from criticism,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Unless they want to be seen as instruments of coercion and censorship, they should immediately revoke these curbs on free expression.”

Last week, an Islamabad High Court judge extended an order to the media regulatory authority to halt the airing of programming critical of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judiciary.

Supreme Court officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The judiciary, led by Chaudhry, has become a power centre in Pakistan’s young democracy that has been ruled by the military for more than half its 65-year history.

Critics contend Chaudhry has pitted the Supreme Court against civilian and military leaders, distracting attention from the urgent task of reforming a broken judiciary.

The Supreme Court has about 20,000 cases pending and there is a backlog of about 1.4 million cases nationally, according to a U.S. State Department report.

Of those cases that reach court, only 5-10 percent result in conviction, according to a 2010 report by the International Crisis Group on reforming the justice system.

Prosecutors are underpaid and overwhelmed and judges rely almost entirely on oral statements rather than physical evidence.

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