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LAHORE: Former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Dawn journalist Cyril Almeida on Monday appeared before a Lahore High Court full bench seized with a petition calling for action against them on treason charges.

The courtroom was already packed to capacity as leaders of the PML-N and lawyers belonging to the party were present in large numbers, especially when Mr Sharif and Mr Abbasi came to the court.

Lawyers remained busy making selfies with the political leaders before the three-judge bench, headed by Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, assembled at around 10.30am.

At the outset, Advocate Ahmad Rauf informed the bench that his client Cyril Almeida was present in the court.

Ex-PMs Nawaz, Abbasi also appear before the court which directed the petitioner’s counsel to address it about the petition’s maintainability

The petitioner’s counsel, Azhar Siddique, said the international media had misrepresented the issuance of warrants for Mr Almeida as an action against press freedom.

Justice Naqvi said that the purpose of the arrest warrants was to ensure presence of the journalist in court.

The judge observed that since the respondent had made his appearance in the court, the non-bailable warrants of arrest were being withdrawn. The judge also directed the ministry of defence to remove Cyril Almeida’s name from the exit control list (ECL).

Asked whether Mr Sharif had made his appearance, Advocate Naseer Ahmad Bhutta replied: “We have always been and will be there sometimes as petitioner, sometimes as respondent, sometimes as premier and sometimes as ex-premier.” The courtroom echoed with laughter after the lawyer’s reply. Mr Sharif had to stand up as the bench was unable to see his face due to an overcrowded courtroom.

Meanwhile, the bench expressed dismay over non-appearance of the attorney general despite issuance of a notice. A deputy attorney general present in the court was not conversant with the facts and circumstances of the case and unable to assist the bench.

The bench directed the attorney general to ensure his presence at the next hearing and inform the court about the federal government’s stance on the matter.

“As the matter pertains to Article 6 of the Constitution, the defence secretary is directed to submit report and para-wise comments regarding the accusations contained in the instant constitutional petition,” the bench said in its order.

The bench adjourned the hearing to Oct 22 and ordered the respondents to file their written replies. It told the counsel for the petitioner to address the court about the maintainability of the petition. Justice Atir Mahmood and Justice Masood Jahangir are the other members of the bench.

Asif Karmani, Pervez Malik, Shaista Malik and Riaz Malik, all PML-N leaders, were present on the court premises while workers staged a protest outside. Veteran politician Javed Hashmi too came to the court, but police kept him waiting for a long time at the main gate.

Amina Malik of the Civil Society Network had filed the petition on the basis of an interview given by Nawaz Sharif to Dawn on May 11. According to the petition, Mr Sharif spoke about cross-border militancy and the need to end it.

The petitioner said a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) was held to discuss the ‘misleading’ statement. After the meeting, she recalled, then prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called on Mr Sharif only to take him into confidence about the concerns the military leadership had expressed at the meeting. She contended that Mr Abbasi’s action was a violation of his oath as he was bound not to allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct. She argued that Mr Sharif had committed sedition by rejecting the statement of the NSC and was liable to an action in accordance with Article 6 of the Constitution as well as the Pakistan Penal Code.

Contempt case: Hearing a separate petition over alleged contempt of court committed by former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal in a speech, the full bench directed the counsel for the petitioner to present a video clip of the speech.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2018