LAHORE: Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif filed an appeal in the British Immigration Tribunal on Thursday after the Home Department refused to extend his stay in the country on “medical grounds” any further.
The decision of the UK Home Department prompted the Imran Khan government to offer the PML-N supreme leader to arrange his return to Pakistan at a notice of 24 hours if he is willing.
“The UK Home Department has refused to extend Nawaz Sharif’s stay in the country any further on medical grounds. However, Mr Sharif will legally remain in the UK till the tribunal issues its decision on his plea for his stay in the country,” PML-N information secretary Marriyum Aurangzeb told Dawn on Thursday.
“Mr Sharif has already filed an appeal with the British Immigration Tribunal challenging the Home Department’s decision. The UK Home Department’s decision will remain in effect till the tribunal arrives at a decision,” she added.
Govt offers special documents for his return; PML-N rebukes minister for doing politics on ex-PM’s health
Dispelling an impression that Mr Sharif had applied for asylum after refusal of his visa extension, Ms Aurangzeb said: “This does not in any way amount to a political asylum and is only a request for an extension to his stay on medical grounds.”
She castigated the PTI ministers for doing politics on the health of Mr Sharif. “As long as the treatment of Mr Sharif is not completed and doctors do not allow him travel he will remain in the UK,” she said. The “rented spokespersons” of the “imposed regime” were doing politics on Mr Sharif, who had earlier returned to Pakistan leaving his ailing wife on deathbed, only to save their jobs, she added.
The passport of Nawaz Sharif, who has been ‘absconding’ in London since November 2019 on medical treatment grounds, had expired in February this year.
The PTI government had declined a request for issuance of a new diplomatic passport to Mr Sharif. Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had already declared that Mr Sharif’s passport would not be renewed as per “instructions from Prime Minister Imran Khan”.
On Thursday both Mr Rashid and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry offered Mr Sharif “special documents” to return to the country.
Mr Chaudhry said now Mr Sharif had an option to apply for an emergency travel document from the Pakistan High Commission in the UK to return to the country and face corruption cases against him. “He has no legal grounds to satisfy the tribunal about his further stay in London. It has been established that he lied about his health,” he said and warned the former premier not to tell lies (about his health) before the tribunal to seek extension to his stay as he may face jail there too for it. “Neither Imran Khan nor the PTI has any enmity with Nawaz Sharif. We want him to come back to the country, deposit the looted money amounting to billions of rupees into the exchequer and afterwards stay at his home,” Mr Chaudhry said.
Meanwhile, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif telephoned his elder brother in London and insisted him to stay there “till his treatment is completed”. “The nation and the PML-N are more concerned about your (Nawaz) health and they are praying for your fast recovery,” he said.
During the talk, Mr Nawaz told Mr Shehbaz about the rejection of his visa extension application and filing of an appeal in the tribunal subsequently.
Prior to the departure of Mr Nawaz to London, Mr Shehbaz had submitted an undertaking to the Lahore High Court that he would ensure return of his brother “within four weeks or on certification by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan”. Mr Nawaz was allowed to leave the country for four weeks, extendable on the basis of medical reports.
Mr Nawaz was serving seven-year imprisonment in the Kot Lakhpat jail in the Al-Azizia corruption case before his departure to London.
Mr Nawaz has been in London since 2019, and has reportedly applied for multiple extensions in his stay. Foreigners on visas can stay in the UK for up to six months in one stretch. Mr Sharif has been in the UK now for nearly two years, but sources said that the letter from the Home Office said his stay despite the refusal of an extension remained valid.
The news of the visa extension application’s rejection took the Sharifs by surprise, as TV channels started to broadcast the alert based on reports from Islamabad. “We just found out ourselves,” Hussain Nawaz told Dawn, expressing his surprise that the story had become public in Pakistan. “This was not leaked by us.”
Interestingly, it was federal minister Faisal Vawda who first tweeted about this development. On Aug 3, Mr Vawda claimed Mr Nawaz’s “visa is being cancelled by UK authorities”. Though technically the claim was erroneous, a few days later it emerged that Mr Nawaz’s application for extension of his stay was denied.
The Home Office does not comment on individual immigration or visa applications, and declines requests to share information on applications with the media or members of the public.
The former prime minister has been in the UK since November 2019, after getting bail from the court on medical grounds and securing permission from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government. His doctors said he was suffering from complicated cardiac disease and an immune system disorder that resulted in a low platelet count. In September, a medical report submitted to the Lahore High Court by his legal team said doctors had advised him against travel due to the coronavirus outbreak as he was suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and diseases of the kidney and heart. The report stated that as a heart patient, he was vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. His lawyers contend that his treatment that was paused due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK would resume soon.
Prior to the pandemic, Mr Sharif had been visiting St Guys’ and St Thomas’ Hospital as well as Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital for check-ups, which the PML-N said would help doctors determine next steps in his treatment. Mr Nawaz’s visits to the hospital had been temporarily paused when the UK went into lockdown in March and when non-urgent surgery patient appointments were postponed due to heavy burden of Covid-19 patients on the National Health Service.
Members of the government on several occasions have dismissed the family’s statements regarding Mr Nawaz’s health and made efforts to bring him back to Pakistan to serve the remainder of his prison sentence in the Al-Azizia case.
Atika Rehman in London also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2021