<p>PTI Chairman Imran Khan at a convention in Lahore. — AFP/File</p>

What’s next for Imran after IHC’s decision to indict in contempt case? Legal experts weigh in

The challenges are far from over for former prime minister, who is advised by legal experts to tender an unconditional apology.
Published September 8, 2022

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday decided to indict PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan in contempt of court proceedings against him for passing controversial remarks against Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry.

The ruling is the latest twist in months of political wrangling that started even before he was ousted from the top office in April through a vote of no confidence in the national assembly.

During the hearing today — which lasted for more than three hours — the five-member bench, headed by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah and comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kay­ani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aur­an­gzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar, observed that Imran’s response submitted in the court was “unsatisfactory”.

Here is what legal eagles have to say about the verdict:

Lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig

Lawyer Mirza Moiz Baig told Dawn.com that the IHC’s decision to indict former Prime Minister Imran Khan meant that his legal challenges were “far from over”.

While IHC CJ Athar Minallah has, on a number of occasions, desisted from using the sword of contempt proceedings against those expressing their reservations with respect to the court’s conduct, holding that the honour and dignity of the courts should stand on surer footings, the IHC like any other court is bound by the Supreme Court’s precedents, he said.

According to Baig, the case against Imran was analogous with the case against PML-N’s Nehal Hashmi where the court convicted him after holding that the threats he issued were an effort to “obstruct, interfere, with, and prejudice the proceedings pending before this court.”

He said the judges adjudicating Imran’s contempt case too were in an unenviable position given that while a decision against the PTI chief, whose popularity amongst his support base had only increased following his ouster from office, might trigger a strong reaction from a certain segment, condoning threatening language against judges hearing politically sensitive cases might affect the judiciary’s morale.

“Additionally, any decision which to merely handout a slap on the wrist is also likely to inflame the passions of political parties whose leaders were previously convicted of contempt of court for similar speeches,” Baig said.

He said as Pakistan waited to see if one of its most popular leaders was convicted of contempt of court and, thus, amputated from the political process or would the rule of law yielded in favour of said leader, the winner of these proceedings “may not be clear”.

The loser, however, shall once again be democracy and political stability, he added.

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii

Dawn.com also reached out to lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii who said that if Imran was taken out of the realm of an electoral possibility, it would “create a democratic deficit large enough to render any political reset, including a general election, illegitimate”.

He was of the view that the “judiciary is cognisant of this, and has treated Imran Khan with kid gloves throughout. However, if he were allowed to get away with threatening subordinate judges, especially female judges, it would have been too much for the institution to bear.”

Jaferii said everyone knew the history of contempt and how it had been used in the recent past against the likes of Talal Chaudhry, Daniyal Aziz and Nehal Hashmi — who were charged with contempt by the SC in 2018, saying they never expressed any remorse or offered an explanation for their statements.

The court has taken pains to remind him of the precedent set by the Supreme Court. The only wiggle room once you are on notice is if you tender an unconditional apology and surrender to the court, and leave yourself at its mercy, he noted.

“Anyone with sense would have done so on the first date.”

“But the problem was, before Imran Khan saw sense, he saw two things: what has worked for him, and his own weight on the chessboard of democracy,” Jaferii stated.

“So he sees that aggressive posturing has thus far got him lots of noise from the establishment but little by way of bite, and has caused an unprecedented retreat,” he said.

“If he is willing to take the chances he has taken, why stop at the IHC. And hence, we have seen over the past week, that the waves of the IHC’s sense of justice and fair play turn to foam when they hit the cliffs of Imran Khan’s ego.”

“We have seen Imran avoid the embarrassment of a necessary u-turn, coming at the cost of a continuous embarrassment to the court, which is seen as handling him too softly.”

Jaferii pointed out that Imran had not apologised unconditionally, which was an immediate requirement. “He has not surrendered to the court. Yet the court gave him an unprecedented chance to change his reply, after asking him to say what they wanted him to say. Then they took three hours to realise he still didn’t say what they wanted and took three hours today to decide to indict him.”

He said the rule of law afforded all men equal measure. “Talal Chaudhry apologised unconditionally on paper and was disqualified. Imran is now justifying on paper, after chatting away and smirking through the first hearing which required his surrender but saw instead the court explain itself to him. And yet it goes on.”

Barrister Asad Rahim

Barrister Asad Rahim said the current episode needed to be kept in perspective.

“Imran Khan has a history of making contentious comments when it comes to the judiciary and then expressing regret later — a pattern that persists despite the dangers of courts being made subject to the populist will,” he told Dawn.com.

However, he said linking Imran’s statement to cases like Nehal Hashmi’s, who openly threatened the judges’ children, or Talal Chaudhry, who compared the senior judiciary to stone idols, was to be making unwarranted comparisons.

That said, the onus remains on Imran to tender an unconditional apology, and put an end to this chapter, he observed.

Advocate Shah Khawar

Talking to Geo News, legal expert Shah Khawar said he saw the IHC decision coming. “The court had given Imran a chance to file another well thought-out response, but he did not tender an unconditional and unqualified apology even in the second reply.”

Khawar said what Imran submitted before the court was not “sufficient”, especially when he was facing a contempt case and charges of scandalising a judge.

The judges observed during the hearing today that Imran remained adamant on his stance and he attempted to justify it, Khawar added.

He said the overall record placed before the court warranted the court to indict him. “And this can be dangerous for Imran.”