The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) on Friday announced a ban on media outlets on reporting the Sialkot motorway gang-rape incident. This is claimed to be in adherence to the directives of the Anti-Terrorism Court, Lahore.
The statement was issued by PEMRA’s General Manager (Operations-Broadcast Media) Muhammad Tahir. It states: “All satellite TV channels (news & current affairs) are therefore directed to comply with the orders of the honorable Anti-Terrorism Court, Lahore, regarding Sialkot motorway incident in letter and spirit and refrain from airing any content with regard to the instant case, in future.”
The orders by the Court have been issued in response to an application by Investigating Officer (IO) Zulfiqar Cheema to ban media coverage of the incident, citing reckless reporting that causes interference with investigative proceedings.
The presiding judge agreed with the IO’s claim and stated: “and if media coverage of the case is not stopped, then [sic] it will certainly diminish the evidentiary worth of the material collected by the prosecution.” In the judgement, it was also observed that “it was an offence relating to sex and certainly due to media coverage the victim and [her] family will also be disgraced.”
This judgment is substantiated by Section 13(2) of Punjab Witness Protection Act 2018, which reads, “The reporting of the identity of a person connected with an offence of terrorism or a sexual offence or the identity of the members of his family shall be prohibited in print, electronic or other media, if the court is satisfied that the quality or voluntariness of the evidence of the person concerned will diminish thereby.”
The incident in question occurred in the early hours of 9th September, when a woman was subjected to gang-rape in front of her two children, when her car ran out of fuel on the M-11 motorway. The incident has been under severe media scrutiny, and has given rise to an inflammatory discourse amongst the Pakistani population. The CCPO Lahore’s controversial comments on the incident, which placed blame on the survivor for “travelling alone at night” and “not taking a safer route,” invited further critical discussion on media channels. The incident incurred nationwide outrage and also inspired public protests against sexual violence against women across major cities in Pakistan.
Criminal investigation of the incident is currently underway. In the Order calling for prohibition on media coverage of the proceedings, the judge also states that “in the instant case, one of the accused has been shifted to the judicial lock-up for the purpose of identification parade.”
The Order concludes: “So chairman Pemra is hereby directed to stop the coverage of case FIR No.1369/2020 of Sept 9, 2020, offence under section 392, 376 (II), 427, 34 of PPC and 7 Anti-terrorism Act 1997, police station Gujjarpura, Lahore immediately on electronic media, print and social media.”