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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court took up a bail plea of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds on Tuesday, inquiring about any example of sending a convict abroad on bail for treatment.

“Unfortunately, our experience is not so good since all those sent abroad for medical treatment never came back,” bemoaned Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, adding that even undertrial persons did not return.

The chief justice, who did not name anyone, appeared to be alluding to former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, who was allowed to go abroad for treatment in the middle of a trial for committing high treason. Mr Musharraf never came back.

A three-judge SC bench, headed by the chief justice, had taken up the appeal of Nawaz Sharif against the Feb 25 Islamabad High Court order of turning down his bail plea on medical grounds in the Al-Azizia corruption reference.

Before adjourning the hearing to March 26 after a daylong hearing, the apex court, however, issued notices to respondents with a caution to furnish any material, if they wanted to, since no further adjournment would be granted after that day.

Supreme Court issues notices on Nawaz’s plea for bail on medical grounds

The petition named the state through the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman, the judge of accountability court No II of Islamabad and the Kot Lakhpat jail superintendent as respondents.

A large number of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders and activists, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Raja Zafarul Haq, Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Hamza Sharif, Ayaz Sadiq, Pervaiz Rashid and Rana Sanaullah, attended the court proceedings.

During the hearing, Khawaja Haris, the counsel for Mr Sharif, reminded the court that his client had returned to Pakistan to surrender himself before the law even after being convicted at a time when his wife was terminally ill and on her deathbed in a London hospital. “This is a matter of life and death, besides my client is not going anywhere,” he argued, saying the court could suspend the bail any time if it felt that Mr Sharif’s medical condition had improved.

The counsel also cited at length five different medical reports of Mr Sharif to build a case that what his client was seeking was a permission to meet his doctors who had treated him earlier so that his treatment could continue. “Let me make an independent mind to see the doctor I trust,” he argued.

Justice Yahya Afridi, one of the members of the bench, asked the counsel to leave the medical reports of his client aside and answer whether any doctor, whom he wanted to meet, had ever refused consultation.

“If you have a certain doctor in your mind, the court can issue a directive for consultation in this regard at this stage,” the bench observed.

Khawaja Haris pointed out that his client had never been allowed to make a choice.

The chief justice summed up what the counsel was insisting by stating that his client intended to trust the same doctors who had treated him earlier, but wondered if Mr Sharif could proceed abroad even if he was granted bail while his name was on the Exit Control List (ECL).

Mr Haris said he believed that Mr Sharif was on the ECL.

“Then even if the court grants the bail, the purpose of consulting with his doctors abroad may not be materialised,” the chief justice observed, adding that the court knew that Mr Sharif received medical care in London, but it wanted to ascertain if his health deteriorated in jail.

“Obviously, Mr Sharif is suffering with heart ailment and cannot be treated in jail because angiography cannot be performed in the prison,” the chief justice observed, adding: “We have to determine whether his health has deteriorated or improved after going to prison since despite suffering with the ailment, Mr Sharif participated in the last election campaign, besides he also faced the corruption trial.”

The counsel informed the court that doctors had suggested angiography of his client — a procedure which could have serious consequences.

He also said that his client was taking 17 different medications and recalled his medical history of past 15 years involving multiple hospitalisation requiring multiple coronary artery stenting procedures since seven stents had already been implanted, coronary artery bypass surgery in 2016, another intervention in 2017 due to closing of one of the bypass grafts, during which a seventh stent was implanted to the native vessel, emergency thoracotomy (open heart surgery) in 2011 during treatment, history of peripheral vascular disease and documented carotid disease as well with history of stroke in 2016, T2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, third-stage chronic kidney disease impairing renal function, coupled with his recent two episodes of acute coronary syndrome with elevated troponin in July 2018 and Jan 2019 and recurrent angina (all developed during his incarceration in jail), confirmed diagnosis of significant coronary artery disease.

The counsel argued that all the medical reports pertained to the diagnosis showing that Mr Sharif was suffering from different ailments, which collectively constituted a risk for stroke, an alarming degree of threat of irreversible damage to his heart and potential threat to further deterioration of his other diseases.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2019