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ISLAMABAD: Within less than a week after notifying jail trial of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz in the Flagship Investment and Al-Azizia Steel Mills references, the caretaker federal government has reversed its decision and declared that the trial in both cases would be held in an open court.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday amid sharp criticism against the July 13 notification of the government.

However, caretaker information minister Barrister Ali Zafar claimed that the last week decision of the government was about one-day hearing of the references inside Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail on the request of the National Accountability Bureau.

Minister says NAB can again ask govt to shift trial to any other place due to security reasons

Briefing reporters about decisions of the federal cabinet, the minister, who also holds the portfolio of law minister, said NAB could request the federal government to shift the venue of the trial to any place due to security reasons under Section 16 of the NAB Act.

He said the government had made this “one-off decision” after receiving a letter from NAB, as the hearing was to take place under special circumstances on the next day of Nawaz Sharif’s arrest and his shifting to jail.

The minister said Article 10-A of the Constitution clearly stated that every citizen had the right of fair trial which was only possible through an open court.

“We have decided today that the accountability court trial [of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz] will be held in normal NAB court and in its own building,” the minister added.

However, he said NAB could again make such a request to the ministry of interior if it believed that there were some security threats.

Responding to a question about the allegations that Mr Sharif was being mistreated and that he was not getting the facilities to which he was entitled inside the jail, the minister said that since Adiala jail fell within the jurisdiction of the Punjab government, therefore, it would be in a better position to respond to this question. As there was no jail in Islamabad, Mr Sharif and his daughter had to be kept at Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, he added.

The minister, however, said that he had firm belief that Mr Sharif would be getting all the facilities as per laws and jail manual of the Punjab government.

He rejected the allegations of certain political parties that the caretaker government was part of some “game plan”. “I can only deny,” he said, adding that the members of the caretaker cabinet were making every effort to fulfil their responsibilities as per the Constitution while staying away from politics.

“We are here for only eight weeks during which we cannot change the mindset of the people and [political] scenario,” he said. Voters would be free to make their decision through their votes on July 25, he added.

Security situation

The minister also told the reporters that the cabinet received a comprehensive briefing on law and order ahead of the general elections. It was decided that political parties would be taken on board on the security issues, he said.

He explained that provincial governments did not want to stop anyone from electioneering, but there must be a procedure for organising public meetings or corner meetings. He said the media would be briefed on Thursday regarding the decisions taken on law and order.

According to a press statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, the interior secretary briefed the cabinet on deployment of over 42,000 civil armed forces, information sharing with provincial governments through the National Counter Terrorism Authority, provision of aviation support and technical assistance by the Federal Investigation Agency and Nadra and other measures being taken ahead of the July 25 elections to ensure law and order.

Besides, the cabinet approved an amendment to Section 6(3) of Elections Act 2017, giving powers to the chief election commissioners to constitute benches of the ECP members for hearing and deciding appeals and election-related complaints.

Fata merger plan

The information minister said the cabinet also reviewed the process of the implementation of the merger plan of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and took a number of decisions.

The cabinet approved an ordinance, which would be issued by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor within the next couple of days, to provide a legal framework for Fata’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

It was also decided that no new taxes would be imposed on the people of Fata.

FATF, dams

The minister said the cabinet also approved some measures proposed by the finance division to facilitate implementation of the action plan to fulfil the country’s commitment towards anti-money laundering and countering terror-financing in line with the requirements of Financial Action Task Force.

The cabinet endorsed a proposal for contributions by the employees of the federal government towards the construction of Diamer-Bhasha and Mohmand dams.

According to the proposal, two-day salary of officers (BS 17-22) and one-day salary of officials (BS-1-16) will be donated for the cause. The cabinet members will contribute their one-month salary to the fund established on the order of the Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The meeting also approved a proposal to assign additional charge of Port Qasim Authority chairman to Asad Rafi Chandna.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2018