The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday referred a plea seeking PTI leader Shahbaz Gill's physical remand in a sedition case to a sessions court for hearing, declaring the petition to be admissible.
The development comes less than a week after a district and sessions court rejected a police request to extend Gill's two-day physical remand and an additional district and sessions judge (ADSJ) dismissed a plea seeking a review of the district court's order.
A plea challenging these orders was filed by Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon in the high court on Saturday last week.
The authorities maintained in the plea that the physical remand of Gill — who is currently in judicial custody on charges of sedition and inciting mutiny in the armed forces following his controversial remarks during an ARY News bulletin — is important for the completion of the case's investigation.
When acting IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq took up Jadoon's plea today, he made its hearing conditional on parties establishing that the review plea rejected by the ADSJ was maintainable in a sessions court.
"If the plea is maintainable in a sessions court, I will then hear arguments on the case's merits," he said, adding that if the petition was not maintainable, there was no need for any further proceedings on the matter.
Justice Farooq then reserved the verdict on the plea and later issued directives for the sessions court to hear it and decide the matter on the basis of merit.
He also directed the sessions judge to hear the petition today.
Make legal, not political arguments: judge
At the outset of the hearing, Justice Farooq stopped Gill's lawyers from speaking about political matters after they made some political references.
"Make legal, not political arguments in this case," he told the lawyers.
While the judge acknowledged that the case concerned a politician, he said the identity of the suspect was "meaningless" to the court. The court is only concerned with legal matters, he said.
Justice Farooq then sought arguments on the maintainability of the review petition that was earlier rejected by the ADSJ.
"The matter ends when the suspect is remanded in judicial custody," he observed, adding that sending a suspect on physical remand in police custody was a "serious matter".
The judge said the session's court was to determine whether the judicial magistrate's order to reject the police request for an extension in Gill's physical remand was right.
"I am not going into the case's merit at the moment. I will first hear arguments on the [review] petition's maintainability," he said.
When Gill's lawyer pointed out that the authorities had filed a petition for Gill's physical remand in the IHC as well, Justice Farooq observed that high courts did not grant remands.
"It is not the high court's jurisdiction to see for how long a suspect has to be remanded. No matter how serious the offence is, it is the judicial magistrate who decides about remands," he remarked.
"At present, I am hearing arguments only on the maintainability of the plea in the sessions court."
Plea for quashing FIR against Gill
Separately, Justice Farooq also heard a plea seeking the quashing of the first information report (FIR) against Gill in connection with his remarks during the ARY News bulletin.
Presenting his arguments on the plea, Gill's lawyer, Shoaib Shaheen maintained that the case against the PTI leader was based on "mala fide".
He contended that the approval for the charges under which Gill was booked had to be taken from the government but it was not taken.
After a transcript of Gill's remarks during the ARY News bulletin was submitted to the court, his lawyer further argued that only a part of the PTI leader's statement was referred to in the case and that the context of those remarks was not explained.
He also mentioned the case filed against lawyer Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir by the Pakistan Army for allegedly "abusing and defaming the senior command" of the institution.
"This case was not filed at the JAG branch's behest but that of the government," the lawyer claimed. He added that federal ministers' recent statements had been more critical than those by Gill and Mazari-Hazir.
Following his arguments, Justice Farooq adjourned the hearing till next week.
Gill’s controversial comments
On August 9, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) had issued a show-cause notice to ARY News for airing comments from Gill, that it said were “highly hateful and seditious” remarks tantamount to “incite armed forces towards revolt”.
The notice went on to say that Gill was invited via a telephonic call for his comments and during his talk with the channel, Gill had alleged that the government was trying to provoke the lower and middle tier of the army against the PTI, saying the families of such “rank and file” support Imran Khan and his party “which is fuelling rage within the government”.
He had also alleged that the “strategic media cell” of the ruling PML-N was spreading false information and fake news to create divisions between PTI chief Imran Khan and the armed forces.
Gill had said the government leaders, including Javed Latif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and former National Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq, had lambasted the army in the past “and they were at the government positions now”.
“The statement made by the guest on ARY News is a violation of Article 19 of the Constitution as well as Pemra laws. Airing of such content on your news channel shows either weak editorial control on the content or the licensee is intentionally indulged in providing its platform to such individuals who intend to spread malice and hatred against state institutions for their vested interests,” the watchdog stated.
“Dr Gill tried to malign the federal government, claiming the government functionaries are spearheading a campaign through social media cell for propagating anti-army narrative,” the authority said.