ISLAMABAD: The threat from coronavirus has led to grant of post-arrest bail to 24 accused persons facing cases of fake bank accounts and Karkey Rental Power and Modaraba fraud references.
Among those who have been granted bail are leading banker Hussain Lawai — who is a close aide to former president Asif Ali Zardari, former director general of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) Liaquat Ali Qaimkhani, former directors of KMC Najamuz Zaman and Jamil Ahmed, businessman Dr Dinshaw Hoshang Anklesaria and Mustafa Zulqarnain, the son of a former president of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
A division bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) comprising Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Aamer Farooq allowed bail to the suspects.
Twenty-seven under-trial prisoners (UTPs) filed applications through the Adiala Jail’s superintendent which were converted into constitution petitions.
The court took up these petitions on March 24. However, subsequent hearings on the petitions were adjourned on the request of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) as its prosecutor was not ready to argue in these cases.
Later, the IHC division bench directed NAB Prosecutor General Syed Asghar Haider to appear before the court to argue in this matter.
On Thursday, NAB’s additional prosecutor general Hassan Akbar appeared before the court and informed it that the prosecutor general was unable to attend the IHC’s hearing because he was stuck up in Lahore due to lockdown in different areas of the country.
He, however, opposed the grant of bail to the suspects of NAB who sought bail because of the fear of a coronavirus outbreak in overcrowded Adiala Jail.
It may be mentioned that according to a report submitted by the Adiala Jail superintendent the jail housed over 5,000 prisoners against its capacity of 2,174 prisoners.
Mr Akbar suggested that instead of granting bail to all the accused, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences should be asked for screening of these UTPs for coronavirus and only infected suspects should be released.
“Since they are UTPs, why we shouldn’t pass an order that the investigation officers as well as their seniors be stationed in Adiala Jail to conduct investigation from these suspects and stay there until the probe is completed,” suggested Justice Farooq sarcastically.
“It is an extraordinary situation and it requires drastic measures. Coronavirus has been declared as a pandemic,” remarked the judge, asking the prosecution “is there any quarantine centre in the jail where a suspected patient could be kept?”
Mr Akbar replied in the negative, but added that he had been instructed to oppose the grant of bail.
When Chief Justice Minallah asked what the maximum punishment for corruption in the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) was, the prosecutor replied the punishment is 14-year imprisonment.
“There is a risk that the suspects, most of whom are aged people, may become victims of the deadly virus,” observed Chief Justice Minallah, adding “you cannot give them death punishment”.
“If someone is convicted of corruption, he may be given a punishment, but an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he added.
In the past too the government took such steps and released prisoners in such circumstances, remarked Justice Farooq.
According to Chief Justice Minallah, it is the responsibility of the government to take such steps. He said it was unfortunate that constitutional courts had to intervene to enforce basic and fundamental rights of citizens.
The IHC chief justice said that NAB could take measures for restricting the movement of the suspects, but they should not be left helplessly in the overcrowded jail.
Mr Akbar argued that at least three applicants were not subject to the IHC’s jurisdiction since their cases were pending before the accountability court of Rawalpindi.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020