ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan's Supreme Court rebuked military and intelligence agencies Wednesday (February 7), calling for them to uphold free speech and stay out of politics.
The unusually strong criticism was issued in a judgment criticising the role of the intelligence agencies in protests that paralysed Islamabad for several weeks in November 2017.
"If any personnel of the Armed Forces indulges in any form of politicking or tries to manipulate the media he undermines the integrity and professionalism of the Armed Forces," stated the judgement, posted on the Supreme Court website.
Pakistan's constitution "emphatically prohibits" members of the armed forces from "engaging in any kind of political activity", it added, ordering the government and the chiefs of the army, air force and navy to take action against anyone found violating his or her oath.
The 2017 protests were led by a then little-known Islamist group called the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and were dispersed only after violent clashes led to a military-brokered deal that forced the resignation of the law minister.
The judges criticised curbs on free speech, singling out the intelligence agencies for a stern warning.
"All intelligence agencies... and the (military's media wing) must not exceed their respective mandates. They cannot curtail the freedom of speech and expression," the court said.
"Those who resort to such tactics under the mistaken belief that they serve some higher goal delude themselves."
Meanwhile, one of Pakistan's leading women's rights activists has been released from security forces, she told AFP Thursday, after Amnesty International said she and others had been detained "arbitrarily".
Gulalai Ismail was arrested along with 17 other members of the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM) during a protest in Islamabad on Tuesday.