The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Thursday dropped two contempt petitions against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan after accepting a written apology for his past statements in which Khan had accused the commission of bias.
The PTI chief had finally appeared before the commission today to come clean — nearly two weeks after his non-bailable arrest warrants were issued — in connection with two contempt petitions filed against him.
PTI counsel Babar Awan, Secretary General Jahangir Tareen and leaders Shafqat Mehmood and Naeemul Haque accompanied Khan at the ECP, DawnNews reported. The petitioner, PTI dissident Akbar S. Babar, was also present for the hearing.
During the hearing, Awan argued that the PTI chief had apologised twice for his remarks — one that he made in January and the other in September — therefore there was no room left for contempt proceedings against him.
A five-member bench headed by Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza then accepted Khan's apology over his remarks accusing the ECP of bias in pursuing the foreign funding case.
However, the bench directed lawyer Awan to submit a written apology signed by Khan in the second contempt application seeking action against Khan for critical remarks he made about the ECP on September 20 in Karachi.
Khan and his lawyer obliged, penning the apology down and presenting it to the ECP. However, the bench expressed dissatisfaction over the first version, and Awan had to submit an amended version.
"I regret my remarks against the Election Commission," Awan quoted Khan as saying in the apology.
Khan then took the rostrum, saying that he had never tried to degrade the ECP.
"I have struggled for 21 years for an independent judiciary and justice [for all]," Khan said, adding that the matter had escalated due to a "misunderstanding".
The PTI chief said his remarks were made in a specific situation and the aim of criticism was to elevate the ECP.
"If it is the 21st year of your struggle, it is the 47th year of my law practice," the chief commissioner responded, prompting Khan to smile.
The bench subsequently concluded the second contempt case against Khan as well.
'Remarks were a reaction'
Talking to reporters outside the ECP, Imran Khan said he was "glad" that the contempt proceedings against him had ended.
He said his criticism was directed at making the ECP credible so it could hold free and fair elections in the future.
Khan said his remarks against the ECP were not meant to be personal and were a "reaction" to the issuance of arrest warrants against him.
After months of foot-dragging over the issue, the PTI had announced last week that its chief would "voluntarily" appear before the ECP. The announcement had come on the heels of the ECP's decision to issue non-bailable arrest warrants for Khan on contempt charges.
The warrants, which were suspended by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) earlier this week, were issued on October 12 following Khan’s persistent failure to appear before the ECP on the show-cause notice issued for “defaming and scandalising” the ECP in the foreign funding case.
The contempt application was filed on January 23 this year by PTI founding member and former vice president Akbar S. Babar, who said he had developed differences with Khan in 2011 over "internal corruption and illegal funding of the PTI."
While the PTI announced that Khan would appear before the commission voluntarily and without prejudice to the party’s view about the jurisdiction of the ECP on contempt, the ECP said it enjoyed clearly defined powers under the law to try and punish contemnors.
Earlier on September 14, the ECP had issued bailable arrest warrants for Khan following his failure to show up for the contempt of court proceedings. The warrants were later suspended by the IHC on the PTI's petition.
In August, the ECP had issued a second show-cause notice to Imran Khan after he failed to reply to the earlier notice regarding the contempt of court proceedings against him.
Imran Khan had initially challenged the maintainability of the contempt petition and raised objections over ECP’s jurisdiction to initiate contempt proceedings against him; the commission, however, declared on August 10 that it had the legal right to hear the contempt case.