LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday suspended life imprisonment of former MNA Hanif Abbasi of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in the ephedrine quota case and released him on bail.

A special court for control of narcotics substance had on July 21 last year awarded life imprisonment to Mr Abbasi, along with a fine of Rs1 million, in the ephedrine case registered by the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) in 2012.

The ANF had registered the case against the PML-N leader and others under sections 9-C, 14 and 15 of the Control of Narcotics Substances Act for misuse of 500kg of ephedrine.

Mr Abbasi was contesting the election against his main rival Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, now federal minister for railways, from NA-60, Rawalpindi, but he stood disqualified following the trial court’s verdict four days before the July 25 general election.

A trial court jailed Hanif Abbasi for life four days before July 2018 polls in ephedrine case

The trial court judge had announced the conviction around midnight to meet the deadline set by a judge of the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi bench. The LHC had on June 11 last year ordered the trial court to announce its verdict by July 21.

Shahid Orakzai had approached the high court for early decision of the ephedrine case. He had also challenged the candidature of Mr Abbasi, but the returning officer and the appellate tribunal had dismissed his objections.

After the conviction, Mr Abbasi was initially kept in Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail and then shifted to Attock jail after his photograph with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in the room of a jail official surfaced. He was later shifted to Camp Jail of Lahore.

A two-judge LHC bench comprising Justice Aalia Neelum and Justice Sardar Mohammad Sarfraz Dogar suspended the sentence of Mr Abbasi after hearing arguments of his counsel Azam Nazir Tarar at length.

The counsel said the conviction of the appellant was politically motivated as only one out of eight suspects in the case was convicted and that was his client. He said the appellant never misused the ephedrine quota, but the trial court ignored basic legal questions before handing down the impugned sentence.

Mr Tarar argued that the trial court had admitted 75 per cent part of Mr Abbasi’s defence statement but rejected the remaining, which was a violation of the settled laws. He contended that ephedrine did not fall within the definition of scheduled drug or controlled narcotics, but the trial court judge relied upon a definition of ephedrine explored on Google.

The same LHC bench had on March 28 ordered the Punjab government to shift Mr Abbasi from jail to Shaikh Zayed Hospital for treatment of heart and kidney.

Commenting on the LHC verdict on Hanif Abbasi, PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Auranzeb told Dawn: “Why did he have to endure nine months of incarceration on baseless and unfounded allegations?”

She said she would share with the people of Rawalpindi their joy for welcoming their leader back who had tirelessly worked for their progress.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf said they could not comment on the matter as it was a court decision.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019