No intelligence agency permitted by Pakistan government to perform audio taps, High Court told

It was disclosed during the hearing of a petition filed by ex-premier Imran Khan’s spouse Bushra Bibi seeking action against a leaked conversation, allegedly featuring her and PTI leader Latif Khosa.


December 21, 2023

ISLAMABAD – Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Mansoor Usman Awan informed the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday that the government had not permitted any intelligence agency to tap audio conversations.

He disclosed this during the hearing of a petition filed by ex-premier Imran Khan’s spouse Bushra Bibi seeking action against a leaked conversation, allegedly featuring her and PTI leader Latif Khosa.

On Dec 6, the former first lady approached the IHC and contended that the recording beached the right to dignity and privacy ensured by Article 14 of the Constitution. The application, filed in the IHC through Khosa, cited the principal secretary to the prime minister and secretaries of defence and interior as respondents.

At the previous hearing, IHC’s Justice Babar Sattar had sought reports from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and other relevant authorities on the audio leak.

He had also directed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) to submit a “report and response on how a leaked private conversation can be al­­lowed to be transmitted on TV channels”.

The hearing

At the outset of the hearing today, AGP Awan submitted a report prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The PMO is clear that the ISI, FIA, and IB are not allowed to record any conversations,” he said.

Awan stated that the FIA was obligated to determine who had recorded the call. “The FIA is approaching telecom companies under the court’s directives,” he said, highlighting that the agency would require access to relevant internet protocol addresses for this purpose.

“If any agency is recording conversations, then it is doing so illegally,” the AGP asserted. Awan said the ISI had emphasised that obtaining reports from social media platforms was crucial for advancing the investigation.

Here, Justice Sattar noted that the PMO report mentioned the ISI as saying that the latter could not trace the source from where the audio was leaked. He then inquired about the agency’s rationale for filing a report through the Ministry of Defence.

The AGP replied that the agency should have submitted a report through the PMO.

On the other hand, Pemra’s counsel told the court that TV channels were prohibited from broadcasting private audio leaks. “What action is Pemra taking then?” Justice Sattar asked.

The lawyer explained that Pemra had previously issued directives prohibiting the airing of such conversations. He added that the matter had been referred to the authority’s Council of Complaints, which would make decisions accordingly.

At that, Justice Sattar inquired whether Pemra was functioning effectively as a regulator. “Have you issued directions to TV channels in any other [related] case?” he questioned.

The judge further sought clarification on whether Pemra was distancing itself from the matter since it had referred the same to the Council of Complaints.

For his part, Khosa said TV channels had broadcast the audio leak throughout the day, referring to it as a disgrace.

Here, Justice Sattar emphasised the importance of a balance between freedom of expression and the matter of privacy, stressing the need for examination. He said it was the responsibility of the state to ensure the balance.

The judge then instructed the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to submit a detailed report on the matter and instructed the FIA and others to refile their responses.

“If you want to make a spectacle, then make it; now it is up to the federal government how they want to run it,” remarked Justice Sattar, adding that the court would appoint local and international advisers if the government failed to provide information on the matter.

He also tasked the AGP with checking any news claiming that the IB had been granted authority to record conversations. “I will check and get back to the court,” Awan assured the judge.

Justice Sattar stressed the seriousness of the matter and assured that it would be addressed. The hearing was subsequently adjourned.

The leaked conversation

In the clip that surfaced on social media, a voice suggested to be of Bibi tells her lawyer that Imran’s sisters were not happy with her for hiring him.

As per the clip, Bibi told her sisters-in-law that she will hand all cases, which were being delayed, to Khosa. She also purportedly said that Imran’s sister had claimed that Khosa misbehaved with her.

The voice suggested to belong to the former first lady also shared that Imran’s sisters were also not happy with her statement in which she expressed apprehension that the PTI chairman could be poisoned in jail.

During the conversation, Khosa said he did not misbehave with the sisters and only told them that they should let him fight the case without interference.

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