• Marriyum says PML-N leader leaving for London today
• Minister says government will avail all legal options against court’s decision
LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Friday granted one-time permission to Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif to travel abroad for medical treatment.
“Keeping in view the past conduct and travel history, the fact that name of the petitioner is not in Exit Control List (ECL) at this moment, the name of the petitioner in blacklist, if already placed, will not stop the petitioner from one-time visit to UK from May 8 to July 3 for his medical check-up,” read an order issued by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi on a petition filed by Shehbaz Sharif.
The LHC decision immediately drew a sharp reaction from the government led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the stanch rival of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Minister for Information Fawad Chaudhry said the government would avail all legal options against the court’s decision.
At the outset of the hearing, Advocate Amjad Pervez argued on behalf of Shehbaz Sharif that the court had removed the petitioner’s name from the ECL in 2019. He said the petitioner, with the permission of the court, had gone abroad twice and returned to the country.
The counsel said the government later found a new way to restrict the movement of the petitioner and placed his name on a blacklist. He said no notice had been issued to the petitioner by the authorities before placing his name on the blacklist.
Advocate Pervez pointed out that Shehbaz Sharif had an appointment with his doctor in the United Kingdom and got a flight reserved for May 8 (today). He said the petitioner being a cancer survivor needed to visit his medical consultant regularly.
Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Rana Abdul Shakoor Khan, who appeared on the court’s call, however, sought time to seek instructions from the quarters concerned on the matter.
The judge asked the law officer to come up after a while with instructions from the authorities.
After a short break, the judge resumed the hearing and the DAG told the court that the government officials were not available due to holidays. He requested the court to adjourn the hearing to a date after Eid holidays.
In reply to a court’s query, DAG Khan said the Supreme Court had in a human rights case in 2017 authorised the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to act as a gatekeeper by maintaining tools such as database of fugitives and prepare a list of fugitives nominated in FIRs of heinous crime for placement on the ECL.
However, he admitted that the petitioner was not a fugitive of law. He, however, said there was no emergency in the health condition of Shehbaz Sharif and in these days the UK was already badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The law officer pointed out that Shehbaz Sharif had given a surety to the court to bring his elder brother Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan but failed to do so. He also read out a written undertaking submitted by the PML-N president in this regard.
Justice Najafi, however, observed that the matter in hand was not related to Nawaz Sharif.
The DAG argued that the petitioner was a prime suspect in a money laundering reference and the statements of witnesses were being recorded before a trial court.
On being summoned, Shehbaz Sharif also appeared before the court.
Justice Najafi asked the PML-N leader as to what was the emergency for his visit abroad.
The opposition leader said he was a cancer patient and got his treatment from London and New York. He said his treatment had already been delayed due to his last arrest in the money laundering reference. “I am a son of this soil and want to be in good health to serve my country,” he said.
His counsel also presented a ticket bought for Shehbaz Sharif’s return on July 3.
Consequently, the judge gave a one-time permission to the PML-N president to visit abroad and sought reports from the interior ministry, FIA and director general of immigration and passport by July 5.
Earlier, the judge overruled the registrar’s office objection to the petition. The office said the petitioner had directly approached the court without availing remedy first from the executive authority.
Meanwhile, in an informal meeting with journalists at his residence, Shehbaz Sharif said Prime Minister Imran Khan had no interest in solving people’s problems. He said pushing the opposition against the wall was the sole interest of the prime minister.
The PML-N president said the prime minister’s failure made the lives of the masses miserable, adding that the government could not even control the prices of essential commodities, including flour and sugar. He said the statement of former FIA director general Bashir Memon had exposed the “unholy alliance” between the National Accountability Bureau and Imran Khan.
‘Joke with the law’
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said the government would avail all legal options against the LHC decision allowing Shehbaz Sharif to go abroad, adds APP.
In a series of tweets, he said such hasty decisions were not taken even in panchayat. It was a joke with the law because Shehbaz Sharif was involved in money laundering of billions of rupees, he added.
Mr Chaudhry said it would be unfortunate if the PML-N leader escaped from the law in such a manner. Shehbaz Sharif, he said, had earlier given a guarantee that his elder brother Nawaz Sharif would return from England after medical treatment. “What had happened to that guarantee?” he asked.
The minister tagged a copy of the affidavit submitted by Shehbaz Sharif to the Lahore High Court and said it was the guarantee he had given for Nawaz Sharif’s visit abroad. Instead of serving notice on Shehbaz Sharif for giving a fake guarantee and recalling Nawaz Sharif back to the country, he himself was now being sent abroad.
Mr Chaudhry said Prime Minister Imran Khan had pointed out weaknesses in the justice system several times, but the opposition parties were not ready for reforms. The main reason for their refusal was that their interests were linked to the present rotten system, he added.
Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021