A legal battle started by a former member of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, Ms Fauzia Bibi, against Prime Minister Imran Khan in June 2018 is far from over. The ex- MPA, who was elected on reserved seats for women on the ticket of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 2013 general elections, was charged by the party chief Imran Khan of ‘horse-trading’ in the 2018 Senate polls following which she filed a defamation suit against him.

The suit, filed under the Defamation Ordinance 2002, has still been in the initial stages as the defendant Imran Khan, who subsequently became prime minister, has so far not filed reply whereas his legal team has been filing different applications thus delaying the trial.

Following the Senate polls there were reports about several of PTI lawmakers in the KP Assembly of voting to rival candidates against the party policy.

On April 18, 2018, Mr Khan addressed a press conference wherein a list of MPAs was made public, which included the name of the plaintiff Ms Fauzia Bibi along with some other party members. Mr Khan announced in that press conference that the party was taking action against those lawmakers for ‘participating in horsed-trading’.

He had alleged that the accused lawmakers had received as much as Rs40 million each for selling their votes and the party would issue them show-cause notices.

Soon after the said press conference, Ms Fauzia Bibi also addressed the media and had sworn on the Holy Quran that she had voted in favour of the candidate of her party.

In June 2018, she filed a suit against Mr Khan for recovery of damages to the tune of Rs500 million for defaming her through levelling “baseless” allegations against her by him in the press conference accusing her of selling her vote in the Senate elections. The only defendant in the suit is PTI chief Imran Khan.

She claimed that in the Senate polls held on March 3 she had followed the direction with effect to cast vote in favour of all the candidates of her party nominated against general and reserved seats for women and technocrats.

She stated that after the Senate polls the defendant, Imran Khan Niazi, started uttering, spreading and resorting to publication, communication and circulation of maliciously false, baseless and unfounded oral statements and representation against the plaintiff.

She claimed that the said defamatory statements had damaged the political, social and family life of the plaintiff besides destroying her personality.

The defamation ordinance, under which the suit was filed, was promulgated by then President General Pervez Musharraf in 2002. Under the said ordinance, the trial court has to decide a defamation case expeditiously. Initially, under section 14 of the said Ordinance, the court had to decide a case under the ordinance within six months. Subsequently, amendments were made in the ordinance and it was made binding on the trial court to decide a case within 90 days.

After continuous delay in decision over her case, the plaintiff has on March 14, 2020, filed a writ petition in the Peshawar High Court through advocate Syed Ghufranullah Shah, seeking direction of the high court for the trial court to comply with section 14 of the Defamation Ordinance, 2002, and to decide the case within the statutory 90 days.

The respondents in the petition are: Prime Minister Imran Khan and additional district judge No-X, who is conducting the trial.

In her petition, she claims that till date 38 hearing dates had taken place before the trial court, but proceedings of the court remained limited to disposing of miscellaneous applications filed by the defendant (Imran Khan). She stated that so far the defendant had failed to submit a written statement in the case.

She contends that delay in trial of her suit by the trial court is violation of section 14 of the Defamation Ordinance. She states that Article 10-A of the Constitution guarantees free and fair trial of her case, but the proceedings before the trial court are neither fair nor free.

Initially, the legal team of Mr Khan, headed by senior lawyer Babar Awan, had filed an application requesting to return the suit back to the plaintiff as the court lacked jurisdiction in this regard.

The said application was filed under Order 7 Rule 10 of Code of Civil Procedure, stating that the press conference in question addressed by Mr Khan was held in Islamabad, and not in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Mr Awan had contended that the said press conference was addressed in Islamabad, whereas the committee constituted for taking action against the plaintiff was also formed there. He had added that as the cause of action arose there, therefore, it was not in the jurisdiction of the present court to deal with this case.

However, the trial court had turned down that application on Jan 30, 2019, and decided that it had the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Later, Mr Khan filed another application before the trial court, seeking rejection of the suit claiming it was not maintainable.

The application was filed in April 2019 under Order VII Rule 11 of Code of Civil Procedure. The defendant had stated that that the press conference referred by the plaintiff (Fauzia Bibi) was made by him (Imran Khan) in good faith in pursuance of a report submitted by the disciplinary committee of the party. He had stated that the plaintiff had not challenged that report.

The plaintiff’s counsel Ghufranullah Shah had stated that the filing of the said application was only a delaying tactic to avoid substantial justice to his client.

The trial court had reserved its order over the said application on June 15, 2019, after completion of arguments by both the parties. The court pronounced its order after almost six months on Dec 14 and rejected the application of Mr Khan.

The trial court has now fixed March 18 for hearing the case.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2020

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