IHC suspends Nawaz's sentence on medical grounds for 8 weeks in Al Azizia case

Updated October 29, 2019

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Pakistani former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (R) leaves the Kot Lakpat jail after his release in Lahore on March 27, 2019. — AFP/File
Pakistani former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (R) leaves the Kot Lakpat jail after his release in Lahore on March 27, 2019. — AFP/File

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday suspended the sentence of former premier Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds for eight weeks in the Al Azizia case.

A plea for bail had been filed by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif for his brother Nawaz, who is under treatment at Lahore's Services Hospital. The verdict had been reserved for a short period before it was announced on Tuesday afternoon.

The court, in its order, said that two surety bonds of Rs2 million each will have to be submitted to the court to secure Nawaz's release. The court further announced that for an extension in bail, the Punjab government should be approached.

Nawaz last week procured bail on medical grounds in the ongoing Chaudhry Sugar Mills case from the Lahore High Court.

A two-member bench, comprising Justice Aamir Farooq and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kiyani, heard the appeal today.

Four options

Before the verdict was reserved, Justice Farooq had asked Nawaz's counsel, Khawaja Haris, whether the president can grant amnesty to Nawaz before the bail plea is announced.

To this, Haris had replied: "He can invoke his presidential powers at any time. However, customarily, all forums are first approached."

The court had observed that NAB seemed to be the only party with a clear stance on the matter and that the federal and provincial government were refraining from taking up a position.

"On which condition should we grant you bail?" Justice Farooq had asked Haris.

"On whichever condition that can give Nawaz Sharif a chance to recover," he had replied.

The court had then presented Nawaz's counsel with four options:

  1. To forward the matter to the executive
  2. To suspend the sentence in accordance with the time frame recommended by NAB
  3. Approve the petitioner's application
  4. Reject the application

In response, Haris had said it would not be advisable to forward the matter to a government which is "utterly against the Sharifs".

At this, Justice Kiyani had said: "The prime minister and chief minister do not belong to a party. They belong to the entire country and province."

Haris had then pointed out that the attorney general had even objected to the interim bail granted to Nawaz.

"We have come to the court. Kindly decide the matter in accordance with the law," the counsel had requested.

Justice Kiyani had said that if the government decides on the matter "it won't be termed a deal".

The counsel had reiterated the request for the court to decide the matter. "We will respect the decision," he had said.

Subsequently, the court had reserved the verdict.

'Nawaz still unstable'

Earlier during the hearing, the court had asked doctors, who are part of the medical board overseeing Nawaz's treatment, if it was possible for Nawaz to recover without staying in the hospital. The doctors had responded in the negative and said that the PML-N supremo required medical supervision at all times.

The board had informed the court that Nawaz had been given 80 injections in order to bring his platelet count — which was reported to have dropped to dangerous levels — to normal. The doctors had said that earlier, the platelets injected in Nawaz's body would be destroyed but added that the count was not wavering any more.

When asked if Nawaz had suffered a heart attack during his medical treatment, the doctors had responded in the affirmative.

Nawaz's personal physician Dr Adnan Khan, who had arrived in court before the hearing started, had said that so far, the board was not able to figure out the reason behind the destruction of the platelets in the former premier's body. He had told the court that Dr Raza Shamsi had been summoned from Karachi for Nawaz's treatment.

"He (Nawaz) is still unstable," Dr Khan had said. "I have never seen him in such an alarming condition." He had said that the former premier's blood pressure had shot up after dinner on Monday night as well.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who appeared before court today, had assured the bench that the provincial government was providing the best medical care to the former premier. He had told the bench that the provincial government was working to bring forth prison reforms.

'Not satisfied with Nawaz's treatment'

Nawaz's lawyer Khawaja Haris during his arguments had expressed dissatisfaction with the medical care of his client so far.

"So far we are not satisfied with the medical board's treatment. The board itself is saying in its report that it is unable to manage [Nawaz's treatment].

"Services hospital does not have machinery to conduct [medical] tests. Nawaz Sharif has to be taken to different places for his tests to be conducted."

Haris had explained that Nawaz's body was not able to generate platelets naturally and he was being given steroids and medicines in order to increase the platelet count. However, the treatment to increase platelet count posed an increased risk of a heart attack.

The lawyer had clarified that while his client did not doubt the intention or capability of the doctors appointed for treatment, the medical board itself was not satisfied with Nawaz's reports. He had insisted that the former premier should be allowed to get treatment from doctors of his choice.

"Why doesn't NAB submit a request for suspension of sentence?" Haris had asked. "If Nawaz Sharif's condition improves, he can serve his sentence again."

National Accountability Bureau (NAB) prosecutor, during his arguments, had said that the anti-corruption watchdog would not oppose bail on humanitarian grounds.

"I will not talk about merit, Nawaz Sharif's condition is serious," he had said.

"If we do grant a bail, how long should it be for?" Justice Farooq had asked NAB prosecutor to which the latter had said that the court can decide in accordance with a Supreme Court verdict that granted a six-weeks bail to seek medical treatment within the country.

PML-N leaders including Ahsan Iqbal, Pervez Rashid and Raja Zafarul Haq, and NAB's legal team had also arrived in the courtroom ahead of the hearing.

'Govt has authority to decide on such a matter'

Last week, Shehbaz had appealed the IHC to grant bail to Nawaz in the Al Azizia case — in which the latter is sentenced to seven years in prison — on medical grounds. A two-member bench of the IHC had heard the bail petition on Friday and after questioning Services Hospital Medical Superintendent (MS) Dr Saleem Cheema, who is part of the medical board treating Nawaz, the high court had adjourned hearing until Tuesday.

On Saturday, however, Shehbaz filed another petition in IHC, requesting the court to hear the bail plea sooner owing to Nawaz's "extremely critical condition". It said that the plea, which was heard on Friday, did not mention that on the night of October 24, Nawaz had suffered an angina attack "as a direct result of the medicine being administered to him to enhance his platelets".

During the course of the hearing, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah had remarked that the request for bail on medical grounds should not have been filed with the court to begin with, as the government has the authority to decide on such a matter. He further said that the court will throw the petition out if the government opposes the bail request.

"However, if something happens to Nawaz Sharif in this time, the onus will be on NAB and the government," he had said. The interior secretary, who was present in the court during Saturday's hearing, urged the court to "base [its] judgment on the merits of the case".

The high court granted an interim bail to Nawaz on medical grounds which expired today (October 29).

'Serious' condition

The former premier was rushed to the Services Institute of Medical Sciences (SIMS) last week after his personal physician raised an alarm about his deteriorating health.

On October 22, doctors at the hospital had termed Nawaz's condition as 'serious' despite the transfusion of three mega units of platelets within hours of his admission.

According to the medical tests carried out, the platelet count of the former premier had "dropped from 16,000 to a critical level of 2,000" when he was brought to hospital late on Monday night, prompting the medical board members to go for "immediate transfusion of the platelets to save his life", one of the board members had said.

After a struggle of three days, a six-member medical board, headed by Services Hospital Principal Ayaz Mahmood, on Thursday diagnosed the reason for Nawaz's declining health.

"It is acute immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a bleeding disorder, in which the immune system destroys platelets," a board member had told Dawn. He said the treatment was given to the former prime minister in the light of his diagnosis. "We are hopeful that his condition will improve in a few days," he added.