PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry on Monday filed a writ petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), calling for cases registered against the party's leadership under the country's blasphemy laws to be termed “illegal”.
These cases were registered after some Pakistani pilgrims chanted slogans at Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation during their visit to the Masjid-i-Nabwi last week.
While PTI leaders said the incident was a spontaneous reaction and reflected the public’s anger, the government claims it was planned and orchestrated by the PTI leadership.
The high court's assistant registrar, Asad Khan, confirmed that the petition had been received. PTI's legal team, Advocate Faisal Fareed and Advocate Ali Bukhari, filed the petition on Fawad's behalf.
The Federation of Pakistan through the interior secretary, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) as well as the police chiefs of Islamabad, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan have been made respondents in the case.
In the petition, Fawad said that the newly appointed interior minister had been targeting the PTI leadership and had also "openly threatened" them with dire consequences.
He said that through "reliable sources", he had come to know that the incumbent government had decided to teach him and other PTI leaders "a lesson they must not forget".
Fawad alleged that Sana had ordered to have him and other PTI leader nominated/booked in false criminal cases registered in various parts of the country. The petition noted that one FIR had been registered in Faisalabad while applications had been filed in Burewala and Islamabad.
It noted that when the unfortunate incident occurred at Masjid-i-Nabwi, the PTI was celebrating 27th of Ramazan at an event organised at the house of Chairman Imran Khan which was also shown live across the country.
"The petitioner, like millions of other[s], came to know about the incident through social media. Therefore, in a most unfortunate and clumsy manner, the ruling party (that is hell-bent to sort out the petitioner and his party leadership, including the former prime minister, Imran Khan) in a malafide intention started a vilification campaign against them in an effort to equal the political score [...]."
Fawad claimed that the government was unnerved by the PTI's announcement regarding a long march and, "acting in a hysteric manner", falsely implicated him, former PM Imran, former interior minister Sheikh Rashid, former NA deputy speaker Qasim Suri, PTI leader Shahbaz Gill and others.
The petition urged the court to direct the respondents to "immediately stop the unlawful and illegal harassment of the petitioner and his colleagues [...] in the interest of justice equity and fair play."
It also called for placing all the FIRs registered against the PTI leadership in various parts of the country on record.
Further, it called on the court to inform Fawad of the grounds and reasons for the registration of the criminal cases against the PTI leadership to "ensure his fundamental right to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner".
The plea urged the court to strictly implement the judgement laid down by the Supreme Court in the "Sughran Bibi vs the state" case of 2018 where the apex court ruled that there must be one FIR of a crime or incident.
The petition urged the court to hold the action of the FIA and the police as "illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional".
IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah took up the petition after the court issued a circular to hear urgent cases during the Eid holidays and issued notices to the respondents. The case was adjourned till 10:30am on May 9.
The IHC CJ directed to send copies of the order to the respondents and the National Assembly secretary. Justice Minallah also directed the interior secretary and the respondents to ensure that Fawad was not harassed and no measures were taken against him till May 9.
He noted that the matter would be brought to the attention of NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf who was expected to ensure that the liberty of NA members was not "curtailed by the respondents without his approval nor that they are harassed in any manner due to the incident which had taken place in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia".
IHC restrains authorities from arresting Shahbaz Gill
Separately, the IHC restrained the authorities concerned from arresting Gill upon his return to Pakistan. The court issued the directives while hearing a writ petition filed by the politician seeking protective bail in the same case.
The petition stated that Gill had been falsely implicated in several FIRs to "harrass, pressurise, blackmail and humiliate". The petition also stated that Gill was ready to appear before the court to prove his innocence but was prevented from doing so as the current government was bent upon arresting him at any cost.
When the IHC CJ took up the petition, Gill's lawyer Advocate Faisal Chaudhry told the court that his client was in the US when the incident occurred. When Justice Minallah asked where Gill was, Chaudhry replied that the PTI leader had left for the US on April 28 and would return on May 4.
The lawyer further informed the court that 11 different cases had been registered against Gill and others in several cities, including Faisalabad, Attock, Jhelum, Burewala, Karachi, Jhang and Islamabad.
"[The petitioners] are being targeted for political revenge," he argued.
The hearing was adjourned till 10:30am on May 6 (Friday).
Police obtain 2-day physical remand of Sheikh Rashid Shafiq
Meanwhile, Attock police obtained two-day physical remand of Sheikh Rashid Shafiq, who was arrested in connection with the case on Sunday.
Police had produced the MNA, who is the nephew of Awami Muslim League (AML) chief and former interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, before a duty magistrate and obtained his physical remand.
An FIR against Shafiq and other PTI leaders was filed at the New Airport Police Station on the complaint of Advocate Qazi Tariq.
Subsequently, the lawmaker was arrested at the Islamabad International Airport (IIA) as he arrived from Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Later, he was remanded in the custody of New Airport police for a day on charges of posting a video on social media in which he was seen encouraging people who chanted slogans against Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his delegation inside the premises of Masjid-i-Nabwi.
Shafiq was detained by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) after he arrived at the IIA on a private airline from Jeddah. He was taken into custody by the FIA at 5:45am and handed over to the police.
Imran, PTI leaders booked
On Sunday, Faisalabad police had registered a case under ‘blasphemy laws’ against the PTI chairman and over 150 others, including some stalwarts of the party, in the wake of the Masjid-i-Nabwi incident.
The FIR was registered under the following sections of the Pakistan Penal Code: 295 (harming or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult a religion), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 296 (disturbing religious assembly) and 109 (abetment).
Complainant Muhammad Naeem, a resident of Faisalabad, nominated top leaders of the PTI and Imran's close associates, including Chaudhry, Gill, Suri, Sahibzada Jahangir, Aneel Musarrat as well as Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafiq.
The complainant alleged the Masjid-i-Nabwi episode was a “planned and thought-out conspiracy” and supported his claims by referring to videos and speeches made by certain PTI leaders.
Naeem further said the suspects had violated the Quranic verses by raising political slogans and using abusive language on the holy premises where scores of pilgrims were offering prayers.
He said most of the suspects belonged to a political party (PTI), as was evident from the video statements that appeared on the official Twitter accounts of PTI leaders and workers “before and after” the nasty incident.
Many PTI leaders endorsed or supported the incident even when hundreds of thousands of people from the Muslim community were strongly condemning it worldwide, he claimed.
He particularly mentioned the name of Shafiq who was present in the Masjid at that time and was “confessing to his crime” through his video statement.
The complainant claimed another delegation of the same political party (PTI) from England also reached there. It included Sahibzada Jehangir alias Cheeku, Aneel Musarrat, Nabil Musarrat, Ijaz Haq, Umair Ilyas, Rana Abdul Sattar, Barrister Amir Ilyas, Gohar Jilani etc., he said.
However, the registration of the complaint under the country's blasphemy laws was widely condemned by politicians and journalists with some terming it political retaliation.
Journalist Marvi Sirmed had expressed shock at the registration of the blasphemy case against Imran and termed the move as "totally insane". She urged Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to avoid doing it.
Lawyer and human rights activist Jibran Nasir said that police "can't register FIR under 295-A on a citizen's complaint, instead, it requires complaint on the government's order as per Section 196 of the Code of Criminal Procedure".
According to him, the FIR against Imran was either defective or lodged on the government's orders.
Activist Ammar Ali Jan also disapproved of the FIR accusing PTI leaders of blasphemy.
"Use of blasphemy allegations to settle political scores is unacceptable. Politics should be based on ideological differences rather than the cynical manipulation of religion. This will give more fodder to extremists," he said in a tweet.
Economist Uzair Younus termed the blasphemy case against Imran as "sickening and abhorrent", saying the "cynical misuse" of the law was still continuing in the country.
Pilgrims accost, chant slogans against PM Shehbaz, federal ministers
Last week, a group of Pakistani pilgrims had accosted, heckled and chanted slogans at Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his entourage at the Masjid-i-Nabwi in Madina during their three-day visit — their first foreign trip since assuming office — to Saudi Arabia.
According to videos circulating on social media, Pakistani pilgrims at the mosque started chanting slogans of "chor, chor" (thieves, thieves) as soon as they saw the prime minister.
In another video, the pilgrims could be seen heckling and hurling obscenities at federal ministers Marriyum Aurangzeb and Shahzain Bugti, as the pair are escorted by Saudi guards. In another video, a pilgrim could be seen pulling Bugti's hair from behind.
Following the incident, the media director of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Islamabad confirmed that some of the pilgrims involved in the incident had been arrested. The official said that the protesters had been taken into custody for "violating the regulations" and "disrespecting" the sanctity of the holy mosque.
Politicians and other religious figures had swiftly condemned the incident, however, some had blamed the PTI. For his part, Imran Khan said he could "not even imagine" asking anyone to carry out sloganeering at the sacred place.
"I have spoken about Islamophobia at every forum," he said in a snippet from an interview that will be aired on the first day of Eidul Fitr.
"The reason for doing so is my belief that until you do not love Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), your faith is not complete. I cannot think of asking anyone to do sloganeering at that sacred place. Nobody who loves the Prophet (PBUH) can even think of it," he said.