ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) registrar office on Saturday evening issued a release order for ailing Nawaz Sharif after a two-judge bench granted him post-arrest interim bail till Tuesday only when the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) gave a categorical statement that the bureau’s chairman did not oppose his release on humanitarian grounds and the federal government refused to take responsibility for his physical well-being.

The counsel for former prime minister and opposition party’s supreme leader immediately forwarded the release order to Kot Lakhpat jail authorities while Nawaz was under treatment at Lahore Services Hospital for his low platelet count.

The court granted interim bail to him against Rs4 million surety bonds.

The IHC division bench comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani also directed Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to appear in person, as the law officers of Punjab, the federal government and interior secretary apparently could not satisfy the court on the issue of implementing an earlier judgement that had defined guidelines for invoking the provision of rules for wellbeing of ailing prisoners.

The bench took up an application hurriedly filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Sharif seeking immediate release of his ailing brother who was shifted from Kot Lakhpat jail to NAB office before being admitted to Services Hospital in a critical condition.

Court repeatedly asks NAB, govt to clear their positions on Shahbaz’s plea

Just a day earlier the IHC had deferred a decision on the suspension of seven-year sentence handed down to the ex-PM by an accountability court in the Al-Azizia reference as the anti-graft watchdog had sought time to file a reply on the matter, asking his personal physician to brief the court on his ailment.

The former premier had been convicted in the Al-Azizia reference by an accountability court in Islamabad on Dec 24, 2018, but he had been allowed to be shifted to Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore on his request.

Appearing before the IHC division bench, Interior Secretary retired major Suleman Azam Khan and Additional Attorney General Tariq Mehmood Khokhar argued that Nawaz Sharif being a prisoner of Kot Lakhpat jail was subject to rules of the Punjab home department besides the prosecution agency, NAB, in Al-Azizia reference.

After a preliminary hearing, the court in a written order had earlier asked Prime Minister Imran Khan, Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar and NAB Chairman retired justice Javed Iqbal to authorise officers to appear before the bench at 4pm.

As per the court order, “the authorised representative will inform us [the court] whether the petition whereby interim bail has been sought solely on medical ground and in view of report submitted by the medical board is being opposed”, adding “if they oppose this petition and grant of interim bail, then they are directed to file their respective affidavits by undertaking that they will take responsibility for the well-being” of Nawaz Sharif.

“In such an eventuality, they will be jointly and severally responsible in case of further deterioration of the applicant’s [Nawaz’s] condition,” the IHC order added.

When the court resumed proceedings in the evening, the interior secretary, additional attorney general, additional advocates general for Punjab Faisal Chaudhry and Qasim Chohan, and NAB’s additional prosecutor general Nayyar Rizvi were in attendance.

The bench recalled the IHC’s judgement on the post-arrest bail of Mr Sharif in which it was specifically mentioned that the prison rules as well as sections of the criminal procedure code empowered the inspector general of prisons and the home department to suspend sentence of a convict.

Earlier in February, another division bench of the IHC comprising Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had dismissed a petition seeking Nawaz’s release on medical ground, and observed that the rules permitted the authorities to take care for the well-being of inmates.

On Saturday, the IHC chief justice observed that if the provincial and federal governments had performed their duties, the matter would have not come before the court.

The learned judge remarked that federal and provincial ministers instead of fulfilling their statutory obligations were trying to shift burden on the judiciary.

He questioned if the federal government was not related to this matter, why the spokesperson of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was giving the statement that court’s decision would be implemented in letter and spirit.

When the interior secretary informed the IHC that the federal government would not take any responsibility of the ex-premier’s health, the court expressed displeasure and remarked “don’t play politics with court” as the law defines certain responsibility of the state.

The bench also converted the petition for implementation of the February 2019 verdict regarding certain guidelines for well-being of ailing prisoners.

Contempt proceedings against anchorperson

The IHC bench also initiated contempt proceedings against anchorperson Sami Ibrahim for linking the Nawaz interim bail order to an “under-the-table deal”.

The court summoned Sami Ibrahim, Mohammad Malick, Kashif Abbasi, Hamid Mir and Amir Mateen for hosting / participating in TV shows “wherein the anchors and participants referred to some deal”.

The anchorpersons appeared in person and explained the contents of their programmes. The court, however, asked them to file a written reply in response to legal notices.

However, with regard to the programme hosted by Mr Ibrahim on BOL TV, the IHC bench observed that “after perusal of the programme, we are satisfied that insinuation made in BOL TV programme tantamount to obstruct the administration of justice and attracts to contempt of court ordinance.”

The registrar office was directed to issue a show cause notice to Mr Ibrahim and the Bol TV chief executive officer seeking their reply within a fortnight.

The court also issued a notice to Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) chairman to appear before the court on Nov 13 and explain as to why proceedings may not be initiated against him for allowing contemptuous content to be telecast on various channels that amount to obstruction of administration of justice in sub judice cases.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2019