IHC issues show-cause notice to Ansar Abbasi, others over report alleging judicial interference by ex-CJP
The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday issued show-cause notices to senior journalist Ansar Abbasi, former chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Rana Mohammad Shamim Ahmed Khan and two others over an investigative report published in The News that highlighted an accusation against former chief justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar of colluding to deny bails to top PML-N leadership before general elections 2018.
The court also directed the respondents to submit their replies within seven days and adjourned the hearing for November 26. The others include The News editor-in-chief Mir Shakilur Rehman and the newspaper's editor Amir Ghauri.
A day earlier, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, under the Contempt of Court Ordinance, took notice of the report, which claimed that in 2018 Nisar influenced judicial proceedings to prolong the detention of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz following their conviction in the Avenfield apartments reference. The allegations were made by Rana Shamim.
Shamim was not present for today's proceedings presided over by IHC CJ. During the hearing, Shamim's son told the court that the ex-judge had reached Islamabad the night before and was feeling unwell. He also asked permission to play a video in the court and to bring a laptop into the courtroom. However, the request was denied.
At the outset of the hearing, the IHC CJ said that it was necessary to restore people's faith in the judiciary.
"There is a difference between social media and traditional media," he noted, adding that a newspaper followed a set editorial policy while social media did not.
Addressing Rehman, Justice Minallah said that a former judge was issued a notice by the court due to a story carried in the newspaper he publishes.
The IHC CJ said that he had full confidence in his judges. "This case would not exist if I did not have confidence in them. Every judge in this court has maintained the public's faith."
He said that judges were also accountable and noted that it was a citizen's right to criticise them.
Justice Minallah grills Abbasi
He also questioned whether a newspaper's editorial policy allowed it to publish a story on its front page which cited an affidavit that was filed in London, and directed Abbasi to read the headline of the story out loud.
The story in question was titled "Ex-CJ GB claims in signed affidavit: ‘Saqib Nisar directed not to release Nawaz, Maryam before 2018 elections'".
"This affidavit is not a part of any court record. Where was this notarised?" Justice Minallah asked, adding that this concerned the credibility of the higher courts.
It is pertinent to mention here that the affidavit in question was notarised by Charles D. Guthrie, a London-based solicitor. A day earlier, when reached for comment, Guthrie told Dawn.com he cannot comment on the document.
On July 6, 2018, an accountability court had sentenced Nawaz, Maryam and son-in-law Mohammad Safdar to 10 years, seven years and 1 year imprisonment, respectively, after finding them guilty in the Avenfield properties reference. They were later arrested upon their arrival in Lahore from London on July 13.
The verdict had come days before the 2018 general elections held on July 25, later that month. Subsequently, all three had appealed the verdict, with the IHC suspending their sentences and ordering their release on September 19, 2018 until the final judgement.
Nawaz was later sentenced to seven years jail time in another case — Al-Azizia Steel Mills/Hill Metal Establishment reference — on December 24, 2018. The former premier spent almost 11 months in prison, before being allowed to travel to London for medical reasons for four weeks. He has not returned since.
Meanwhile, coming down hard on the senior journalist, the IHC CJ questioned whether he had checked the date of the court's order against Maryam and Nawaz. "You are an expert at investigating, did you investigate yourself?"
He also asked Abbasi whether he had checked who was part of the bench hearing the cases against the PML-N leaders, adding that he and Justice Aamer Farooq were abroad when the appeal was filed and the case was fixed for hearing.
"Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani and Justice Miangul Hassan were present in the country at the time. Did you inquire about this from the high court registrar?"
He observed that noted lawyers were part of the case against the PML-N leaders. "Did you ask them if they had requested for a date before the general elections?"
He said that Khawaja Haris was the petitioner at the time. "Did you check with him about the bench hearing the case?"
He remarked that "scandals" were being perpetuated to ruin people's trust in the country's institutions.
"If another judge spoke like this in front of me I would get in touch with the Supreme Judicial Council," he said.
"A person witnesses the CJP asking someone to commit a crime. The person stays silent for three years and an affidavit concerning the incident surfaces. How can a newspaper publish such a document?" he asked.
When Abbasi requested for permission to speak in court, the IHC CJ replied "you have already caused enough damage".
"I was the one who gave the story, you can take action against me," the senior journalist said, adding that he had done so in an effort to protect the sanctity of the court.
"A former GB judge is levelling an allegation against a former CJP. Take action against me but also carry out an investigation," Abbasi said.
During the hearing, Shamim's lawyer also asked the IHC CJ whether the court would take notice of the statements made by Minister for Water Resources Faisal Vawda. According to news reports, the minister had stated that the former judge should be hanged and flogged in public for levelling the allegations against Nisar.
However, the court refused to include it in the case and told Shamim's lawyer to file a separate appeal.
PML-N cries foul
After the story was published, the PML-N had cried fouled and termed it another "vindication" for Maryam and Nawaz.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said that the "explosive" news report was yet another vindication for Nawaz and Maryam in the "court of public opinion". The report peeled off a "thick layer of a grand scheme employed to target" the PML-N chief and his daughter, he said.
Speaking alongside other PML-N leader, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi also demanded that a suo motu notice be taken of the matter and questioned: "If Mian Nawaz Sharif can go to jail, why can't Mian Saqib Nisar?"
"If Rana Shamim is lying, he should be given stringent punishment, but if he is speaking the truth, then justice Saqib Nisar's place is in jail," Abbasi remarked at the press conference.
However, the government dismissed the opposition's claims and Information minister Fawad Chaudhry said that instead of "fabricating silly stories and conspiracy theories", Nawaz should tell the people about the source of the money used to purchase the Avenfield Apartments.