The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday stopped short of issuing a show-cause notice to PTI chief Imran Khan and gave him another chance to explain his alleged flouting of a May 25 court order that defined the limits for his party’s “Azadi March”.

However, the court decision came with an observation by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial that the material available with the court justified the issuance of a notice to the former premier.

“We are giving another chance to Imran for an explanation,” the CJP said, adding that the court had been proceeding with “caution” and “patience” in this case.

“According to the material available with the court, a notice should be issued to Imran Khan. We are still giving him a chance to explain,” he said.

The court sought a detailed reply from Imran by November 5, instructing that the reply should bear his signature. The SC also sought relevant videos in the case from Imran’s lawyers.

The court had rejected a government request to issue a show-cause notice to Imran in the previous hearing as well, seeking replies from him and his lawyers regarding an undertaking given by the PTI that he would not proceed to D-Chowk during the march.

In his reply submitted on the interior ministry’s contempt plea on Monday, Imran had claimed he was not aware of any such undertaking made before the court. He had also sought more time to submit another reply by November 3 (today).

The hearing

A five member-bench, headed by CJP Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Mazahar Akbar Naqvi, resumed the hearing of the plea today.

At the outset of the hearing, Supreme Court Bar Association President Ahsan Bhoon said he was representing Imran’s lawyers, Babar Awan and Faisal Chaudhry.

Bhoon recalled that the court had previously issued notices to both lawyers, but the CJP corrected him that the SC had only sought replies from them.

“Their replies seem appropriate, [but] we will review them later. Let’s hear the government’s stance first,” the CJP said.

Representing the state, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Amir Rehman noted that Imran had sought more time from the court for submitting his reply and had expressed ignorance about any undertaking given by his party.

“He also expressed ignorance of the court order in his reply [even] when he had given an assurance to the court,” the AAG contended. He added that according to one of Imran’s lawyers, Faisal Chaudhry, they had sought instructions regarding the march and undertaking from PTI leader Asad Umar as they could not get in touch with Imran at the time.

“According to Babar Awan, none of the lawyers have named Imran” regarding the undertaking, he said.

At this, the CJP recalled that the apex court had issued two orders on May 25 and asked what was the time difference between the issuance of the two orders.

The AAG replied that the first order was issued at 11am and the second at 6pm.

The CJP pointed out that the time between the two orders was to be utilised by PTI lawyers to seek instructions regarding the march and subsequently give an undertaking to the court.

“The court was not told who had given the instructions. If they did not speak to anyone, why wasn’t the court informed? An explanation on this has to be given,” the CJP observed, adding: “The court trusted Babar Awan and Faisal Chaudhry. Neither of them ever said they had not received instructions.”

CJP Bandial also asked how Imran got to know about the court order and noted that the undertaking was given by PTI’s top leadership. “And the top leadership starts with Imran Khan.”

In this connection, Bhoon contended that the government had failed to give the “facility of having a meeting” to Babar and Chaudhry. “How could they have received instructions?”

To that, the CJP asked whether the lawyers had not contacted any senior leader of the PTI on phone.

Chaudhry told the CJP that the court had directed him to get in touch with the leadership at 12pm.

“But while travelling, Imran Khan carries jammers,” he said, adding that he informed Awan of the court directives after he was able to contact him. He further said he was able to get in touch with Asad Umar and also informed him about the court proceedings.

At that, the CJP questioned, “Was Asad Umar not at the rally at the time?” He observed that photographs from the day showed he was at the rally and asked, “If there were jammers, how were you able to contact Asad Umar?”

CJP Bandial also asked what was Umar’s designation in the PTI.

“He is the party’s secretary general,” Chaudhry replied. He also defended his stance, saying no court directives were issued by the time he had contacted Umar.

“The court order was issued at 6pm. I will not lie to the court,” Chaudhry said.

He further told the court that Umar informed him that they had sought the Islamabad administration’s approval for holding a protest in the H-9 ground.

Here, CJP Bandial said that the attorney general had expressed concerns regarding a law and order situation arising during the May 25 protest.

To this, Chaudhry said: “Back then, the jurisdiction of the Red Zone began from D-Chowk. As per court orders, if the senior leadership [of the PTI] had met Imran Khan that day, it would have informed him. But on the evening of May 25, the situation was very tense.”

The lawyer said that the court had also prohibited any talks with the media.

At that, the chief justice contended that during the hearing that day, media was inside the court and the court’s orders were broadcast. “The court had tried to create a balance on May 25.

“You could have contacted Asad Umar for the second time too. But that didn’t happen,” he said, adding that this was the reason why the court, in an order on May 26, had said that its trust was broken.

Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan observed that the PTI had “misused” the court’s orders. “The court had given protection to the PTI leadership and their supporters after which the government had removed all obstacles [from the route],” he said.

Here, Justice Bandial reiterated that in its orders on May 26, the court had expressed that its trust was broken.

“To be an SC lawyer is an honour. [You] can’t give reassurances to the court and then make excuses,” he said, questioning why contact couldn’t be established with Asad Umar.

“There was no question of crossing H-9 and the court was led astray by two lawyers,” he stated, asserting that “your pen should not be used against the court”.

The CJP also said that 200,000 lives cannot be burdened by calling 10,000 people. “During the Faizabad sit-in, patients had died in ambulances,” he recalled, stressing that those who believed in democracy never protested in such a way.

Subsequently, the court granted Imran another chance to submit a response in the case within a week, instructing Chaudhry to ensure that the document has the PTI chief’s signature.

The SC further directed the PTI lawyer to submit videos from the May 25 march. “Whatever happened on May 25 should not take place again,” it added.

‘Deeply saddened’ on Azam Swati’s statement: CJP

Towards the end of the hearing, the chief justice remarked that he had read PTI Senator Azam Swati’s statements on his custodial torture in the newspapers and was “deeply saddened”.

“Azam Swati said his self-esteem was hurt,” he noted, saying that self-respect was a human being’s basic right.

“How can politicians taking oath under the Constitution of Pakistan be denied basic human rights,” he wondered.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Swati described his “custodial torture” in detail and CJP Bandial to investigate the incident to protect citizens from such an ordeal in the future.

The PTI leader was arrested earlier this month in a case registered against him over a controversial tweet thought to be against the armed forces. Since then, Swati has alleged he was stripped and tortured and has named two military officials behind his ordeal.

The petition

The federal government, through the interior ministry, had approached the Supreme Court last week for initiating contempt of court proceedings against Imran for violating its May 25 order, wherein the PTI was restricted from holding its ‘Azadi March’ near Peshawar Mor between the H-9 and G-9 areas of Islamabad. However, Imran and his supporters made their way towards D-Chowk in alleged contravention of court orders.

According to the petition, the apex court had in its May order directed the PTI to hold a gathering on a ground located between sectors H-9 and G-9 in view of the categorical assurances on behalf of the party’s top leadership and their counsel that their rally would not cause any inconvenience or blockage of the Srinagar Highway or trouble the public and that the rally would be conducted in a peaceful and lawful manner.

Despite these assurances, the PTI top leadership, acting in blatant disregard for the directions, exhorted its supporters to reach D-Chowk, falsely professing that the court had allowed the march without any conditions, it added.

The contempt petition pleaded for the implementation of the apex court order for the protection of the fundamental rights of the public, particularly residents of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

It also requested that the Supreme Court should also issue comprehensive guidelines for all future protests to be held in the federal capital that should include prior intimation of the date, selection of the venue, assurance of not causing any hindrance to public life and a commitment to ensure that the protesters would not cause any damage to public or private property.

The plea also claimed the tone and tenor adopted by the PTI chairman in his speeches against the incumbent rulers and state institutions was “highly inflammatory”, aimed at encouraging distrust and contempt and instigating revolt.

This had caused significant alarm not only among the public, but also the international community and investors regarding the impact of this purported ‘jihad’, the petition claimed, adding the past conduct of the party head, especially the events of May 25 and his violation of court orders, his alleged encouragement of destruction of public and private property and disruption of law and order, merited strong directions from the apex court about his upcoming protests.

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