The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday deferred contempt proceedings against PTI chief Imran Khan after he expressed the willingness to apologise to Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry.
The IHC had initiated contempt proceedings against Imran over his diatribe against Judge Chaudhry, who had approved PTI leader Shahbaz Gill’s physical remand in a sedition case, at a public rally in Islamabad’s F-9 Park on Aug 20.
At the previous hearing, the IHC had termed the PTI chief's revised response in the case as "unsatisfactory" and decided to indict him on September 22 (today).
A larger bench, headed by IHC CJ Athar Minallah and comprising Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani, Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb, Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri and Justice Babar Sattar, heard the case today.
In its written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the court observed that in his statement today, Imran said that he "may have crossed a red line".
"He wanted to assure the Hon’ble Judges of this Court that he was willing to clarify before the Hon’ble Judge of the District Court that neither he nor his party sought any action against the Hon’ble Judge of District Court and that he would willingly apologize to the Hon’ble Judge if she felt that the respondent had crossed a line."
The order went on that the PTI chief has promised never to do anything in the future that would hurt the dignity of the judiciary and especially the lower judiciary.
In view of Imran's response, the court said that it was "satisfied with the apology rendered by the respondent".
"Let him file an affidavit for consideration of this Court before the next date fixed," the IHC added.
During today's hearing, the former prime minister took the stand. He sought permission from the bench to put his statement on the record, saying he was not allowed to speak at the last hearing.
"I am ready to apologise to the female judge," he told the court.
"The court thinks that I have crossed a line. My intention was not to threaten the female judge. If the court says so, I am ready to personally go to the judge and apologise," he offered.
"I assure the court that I will not do something like this in the future," he added. "I am sorry if I have crossed a red line."
Following this, the IHC CJ said that the court would record the PTI chief's statement and told Imran to submit an affidavit. "Submit an affidavit detailing what you have said," the IHC CJ said.
"It is your personal decision as to visit the judge in person," the IHC bench said. "If you have realised [your] mistake and ready to apologise for it [...] that is enough," the court remarked.
The hearing was subsequently adjourned till October 3 with the court directing the PTI chief to submit an affidavit within a week.
Talking to reporters after the hearing, Imran said that PTI's movement for "Haqeeqi Azaadi" (true freedom) was against mafias. "I don't want to fight Pakistan's judiciary."
Earlier, Imran was hounded by reporters as he made his way to court alongside party leaders Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Shibli Faraz.
Dressed in a black shalwar kameez and grey waistcoat, smiled at reporters but did not respond to their questions as he made his way to the courtroom. Footage broadcast on television showed Faraz jostling for a spot behind Imran.
'Govt on its way out'
Talking to the media outside the court after the hearing, PTI Senator Faisal Javed said that in his meetings, Imran had always talked about respecting the law and the judiciary.
"Today Imran Khan's stance since the first day was maintained. The court's decision will hopefully come in Imran Khan's favour," he added.
Javed said the coalition government's day in power were numbered.
"That day is not far when Imran Khan will again take oath as Pakistan's [prime minister] and enter the assembly with more than two-thirds majority," he added.
He said the people were waiting for Imran's call and then a "sea of people" would head toward Islamabad.
IHC issues circular for maintaining decorum
A circular issued by the court earlier stated that the case would be taken up at 2:30pm to ensure that regular cases were not affected and litigants/lawyers were not disturbed.
"And in order to ensure the honour dignity and decorum of the court, and keeping in view the limited seating capacity in courtroom 1, the entry in the courtroom shall be subject to [an] 'entry pass' issued by the office of the registrar, IHC."
In the circular, the IHC directed the Attorney General's office and Advocate General Islamabad to submit a list of 10 and five law officers, respectively, for the issuance of entry passes. Similarly, the respondent's counsels were also told to submit a list of not more than 15 learned counsels/persons.
The amici curiae, the IHC Bar Association, president of the IHC Journalists Association were also told to submit lists for issuance of passes. Further, the ICT administration and the Islamabad IG were told to ensure proper administrative and security arrangements to maintain decorum.
The decision to initiate contempt proceedings against Imran was taken by Justice Aamer Farooq while hearing a petition challenging Gill’s police remand. The court summoned Imran on August 31 and subsequently issued him a show-cause notice.
A day before the hearing, the former prime minister submitted a reply before the IHC wherein he expressed his willingness to “take back” his words about the judge if they were “regarded as inappropriate” and pleaded before the IHC that the judges who had agreed to initiate the case against him should consider withdrawing themselves from the bench as, according to him, they had pre-judged the matter.
However, the IHC had deemed the response to be “unsatisfactory” and asked the PTI chief to submit a “well-considered” response.
Following this, Imran submitted a fresh reply in the court. In the revised response, however, Imran stopped short of rendering an unconditional apology. He stated that “I have a profound regard and respect for this honourable court and its subordinate courts and judge”.
On September 8, the IHC decided to Indict Imran, once again calling his response “unsatisfactory”.
“The learned counsel for the respondent took us through the supplementary response filed by the respondent and submitted that it was an explanation of the speech in relation to which contempt proceedings have been initiated,” the court order stated.
The court maintained that it considered the response filed by Imran and did not find it satisfactory. “We are not convinced that the respondent has purged himself of the wrongdoing alleged against him in relation to which the show cause notice was issued,” the IHC added.