ISLAMABAD: An accountability court on Friday was forced to defer the indictment of Sharif family members after a melee outside the Federal Judicial Complex (FJC) disrupted proceedings of the high-profile case.
Tensions began early in the morning, when a sizeable contingent from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Lawyers’ Forum — who wanted to witness the indictment of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar — was stopped by police at the G-11 checkpost, some 200m from the complex.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Sajid Kiani, who was overseeing security arrangements, did not allow the lawyers through, even though they had a high court directive that ordered police not to stop lawyers and litigants from entering the FJC.
• Lawyers trying to force their way into judicial complex baton-charged by police • Proceedings against ex-PM, Maryam and Capt Safdar deferred until Oct 19 • Imran Khan accuses PML-N of attacking judiciary; interior minister orders inquiry
The situation degenerated into a brawl when the lawyers tried to cross the police picket by force and were baton-charged in return.
In the scuffle, a lawyer named Chaudhry Farid suffered a head injury, while a woman lawyer’s leg was fractured. Another senior woman lawyer’s uniform was torn.
Despite the deteriorating situation, however, police did nothing to calm the protesting lawyers and continued to keep them away from the FJC until Capt Safdar’s vehicle arrived.
As soon as the former prime minister’s son-in-law arrived at the spot, lawyers mobbed his vehicle and managed to enter the court complex. However, they were repelled by police officials when they tried to enter the courtroom.
Meanwhile, the accountability judge had not yet arrived in the courtroom and Barrister Jahangir Jadoon of the PML-N asked a court official to apprise the judge of the unfortunate incidents occurring outside.
By this time, Maryam Nawaz and her spouse had both arrived in the courtroom for their indictment.
When the judge arrived in court, a PML-N lawyer tried to raise slogans, shouting “We want rule of law”. However, he was hushed by his peers.
Initially, the judge tried to calm the agitated lawyers. However when the injured Advocate Farid was brought before him, the judge announced he was adjourning proceedings and deferred the indictment until Oct 19.
Speaking to reporters after proceedings, Maryam Nawaz Sharif regretted the maltreatment of lawyers and called on the interior ministry to hold an inquiry and identify those responsible for the melee.
Later, in a press talk, State Minister for Interior Talal Chaudhry regretted what transpired outside the FJC, but was careful not to blame the lawyers directly for the situation that developed. “The courtroom has limited space, where everyone from the court staff to lawyers, the defendants, witnesses, journalists and security officials need to be accommodated.
“We have already worked out an arrangement with our friends in the media, and we will also sit down with our friends in the legal fraternity and settle the matter amicably,” he said.
Later, Federal Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal directed the interior secretary to hold an inquiry into the incident. In a statement, the minister said that the black coats who had disrespected the judiciary cannot be termed lawyers, and ordered the interior secretary to ensure the security of the courts at all times.
But this did not satisfy the ruling party’s arch-rival, Imran Khan. In a series of messages on his Twitter account, he lambasted the PML-N for deliberately attacking the judiciary “to protect the over Rs30bn loot stashed abroad”.
“Now we know the drama of Ahsan Iqbal over the Rangers’ presence in NAB court [was meant] to leave the NAB judge unprotected. Clearly PML-N is hell-bent on destroying all state institutions. The people of Pakistan must be prepared to stand up & defend our state institutions,” he tweeted.
This impression was quickly refuted by State Minister Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, who convened an official media talk at the Press Information Department (PID).
“I categorically say that mismanagement took place outside the complex building... where a number of lawyers attempted to enter the compound to appear in different cases as per their routine practice,” he said, denying the impression that the quarrelling lawyers had any link with the PML-N.
“The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are levelling baseless allegations linking this incident with the disruption of court proceedings,” he said, maintaining that the ruling party had always respected the judiciary.
This was the third time that law enforcement agencies had failed to maintain order during the appearance of high-profile personalities at the accountability court.
During Nawaz Sharif’s first appearance here, a TV reporter was manhandled by plain-clothes policemen for filming the former prime minister inside the courtroom. Following the incident, police turned the FJC into a no-go area for lawyers, litigants and mediapersons on Sept 27.
Then, on Oct 2, when Rangers took control of the court’s security without a formal requisition from the Islamabad administration, they prevented everyone — even courtroom officials and Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal — from entering the FJC.
It is worth noting that SSP Kiani was the same official who sought permission from the Islamabad administration for Rangers’ deployment on Oct 2.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2017