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SUPPORTERS of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans outside Jinnah Hospital Lahore after the Islamabad High Court rejected a petition seeking release of their leader on bail on medical grounds.—M. Arif / White Star
SUPPORTERS of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif shout slogans outside Jinnah Hospital Lahore after the Islamabad High Court rejected a petition seeking release of their leader on bail on medical grounds.—M. Arif / White Star

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was taken back to Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat jail when he ‘refused’ to get further treatment at the Jinnah hospital after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday rejected his petition seeking suspension of his sentence in the Al-Azizia reference on medical grounds.

When the nine-page detailed order on the petition seeking suspension of seven-year sentence awarded to the PML-N supremo in the Al-Azizia reference was issued by the IHC division bench comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, the former premier was in the Lahore hospital with his daughter Maryam Nawaz.

“Dejected Sharif after hearing the verdict told the doctors that he did not want to stay in hospital further and wanted to go back to jail,” a source told Dawn. The source added that doctors had advised him angiography but the Sharif family seemed reluctant to have the procedure in the country.

According to the judgement, the court’s jurisdiction to suspend a sentence or to release a prisoner on bail under Article 199 of the Constitution is to be exercised sparingly, in extraordinary circumstances and in cases of extreme hardship, while the petitioner has been receiving the best possible medical treatment available in Pakistan.

Court rejects petition seeking suspension of sentence in Al-Azizia case on medical grounds, finding it to be without merit

As the court decision surprised senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders including ex-premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who termed it “disappointing”, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf central leadership said the judgement dispelled the impression of a deal with the PML-N and that the time for a ‘fixed match’ was over.

Earlier there was total silence in the courtroom when Justice Farooq announced “petition is dismissed”. The bench noted that Nawaz Sharif had sought his release on bail “solely” on medical grounds. It pointed out that the former premier had previously filed a petition seeking suspension of his sentence and release on bail on merits of the case but later withdrew it.

While observing that the court has the jurisdiction to suspend a sentence or to release a prisoner on bail (whether under trial or convicted) under Article 199, the order stated: “However, such jurisdiction is to be exercised sparingly, in extraordinary circumstances and in cases of extreme hardship.”

Discussing whether Mr Sharif’s condition could be termed an “extraordinary situation and one of extreme hardship”, the IHC bench referred to a number of cases including that of PPP leader Sharjeel Memon, whose bail plea on medical grounds was refused.

The judgement stated, “The petitioner [Sharif] has been hospitalised time and again since January, 2019, whenever he made complaints about his indisposition. In fact the reports of board of doctors and various teams constituted are indicative of the fact that petitioner is receiving best possible medical treatment available to any individual in Pakistan.

“The referred fact cannot be regarded as an ‘extraordinary situation’ and/or case of ‘extreme hardship’ [...] being indisposed per se cannot form basis to be released on bail.

“In the instant [Nawaz Sharif’s] case, the law was duly followed and the petitioner was taken to the hospital as and when he complained about his health.”

The verdict cited the case of Pakistan Peoples Party leader Sharjeel Inam Memon whose plea for bail on medical grounds had been dismissed by the Supreme Court. It said: “Supreme Court observed that since none of the doctors has suggested the surgery of Sharjeel Inam Memon, hence [his] request for release on bail was turned down.”

Elaborating the jail manual procedure for ailing inmates, the bench observed that the jail authorities followed the set procedure for providing medical treatment to the ex-premier. The court, concluding its order, said it found the “petition to be without merit” and dismissed the same.

Reaction of PML-N, PTI

It appeared that the decision was against expectations of leaders and workers of the main opposition party. Shortly before the judgement, Maryam Nawaz had tweeted a couplet by Saraiki poet Shakir Shuja Abadi ‘Dua shakir tu mangi rakh, dua janay khuda janay’ (Keep praying and leave the rest to the Almighty).

Talking to reporters outside the IHC, Mr Abbasi termed the decision “disappointing” and said the former PM wanted to get his medical treatment from the doctor of his choice, but the court turned down his request. “We have always respected court orders; we respect this one as well. We will take all legal routes that are available [to challenge],” said Mr Abbasi, hinting at the possibility of filing an appeal against the decision.

“The treatment required [for Sharif] cannot be provided in jail; it is important that he is released [from jail],” he added. PML-N workers gathered outside the Islamabad court chanted slogans against the decision.

However, the ruling PTI welcomed the judgement. In a statement, PTI’s central information secretary Umar Sarfraz Cheema said the verdict dispelled the impression of a deal with the PML-N. The time for a ‘fixed’ match was over, he said, adding that the court decision should be respected by all and sundry.

Ex-PM’s life at risk, says his personal physician

Later, Nawaz Sharif’s personal physician Dr Adnan Khan said he had been shifted back to jail “without treatment”. Asked why the Sharif family was not willing to have angiography of Mr Sharif at the hospital in Lahore, Dr Khan said: “It should have been done on Jan 22 when the medical board suggested.”

Dr Khan added: “Mr Sharif was diagnosed with significant heart disease ‘Heart Perfusion Scan’ on Jan 22. Subsequent special medical boards endorsed the same. It’s been more than a month, no definite treatment has been carried out. The health & life remains at risk ...”

Mr Sharif was shifted to Jinnah Hospital on Feb 15 from jail for cardiac treatment.

The five-member special medical board of the Jinnah Hospital in its report to the government said: “The patient (Sharif), 69, needs cardiac catherterisation, for further management, in view of his symptoms of angina. Because of long standing history of comborbities and complicated cardiac surgical history, a nephrologist and cardiac surgical back up is recommended during the cath.”

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2019