The Supreme Court raised questions on Thursday on the maintainability of a plea seeking contempt proceedings against PTI chief Imran Khan — for allegedly flouting the top court’s orders regarding his party’s ‘Azadi March’ on May 25 — and observed that the petition, filed by the interior ministry, was “ineffective”.

The ministry stated in the plea that the apex court had directed the PTI to hold its ‘Azadi March’ gathering in a ground located between sectors H-9 and G-9, but Imran and his supporters made their way towards D-Chowk in alleged contravention of court orders.

A larger bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Muneeb Akhtar, Justice Yahya Afridi and Justice Mazahar Akbar Naqvi heard the plea.

At the outset of the hearing today, the government’s lawyer, Salman Aslam Butt, contended that the PTI had given the call for its supporters to reach D-Chowk on May 24.

He further said the “entire record” establishing that Imran was made aware of the court order that set the limits for the march was available and a USB drive containing PTI leaders’ statements was also submitted to the court.

Regarding the PTI’s stance that Imran could not be made aware of the court order on time due to jammers installed on his container during the march, Butt argued that government permission was required for installing such devices.

“Imran has made false statements in his reply; he first mentioned his and then the chief minister’s jammers,” the lawyer contended.

At that, Justice Naqvi remarked, “How does that court determine who is making a false statement? The Supreme Court is not a trial court that it will record testimonies.”

The judge further remarked that the interior ministry’s plea “is already ineffective” and told Butt to first present arguments on the maintainability of the plea.

The lawyer, however, urged the court to initiate contempt proceedings against Imran on the basis of the available material, assuring the bench of the interior ministry’s assistance in determining whether the PTI chief was guilty of contempt.

But Justice Naqvi remarked: “A matter of contempt is between the court and the contemnor.”

At that, Butt contended that a petitioner could also seek contempt proceedings.

However, the CJP endorsed Justice Naqvi’s observation, saying: “That the matter of contempt is between the court and the suspect is correct.”

Justice Afridi questioned the need for the interior ministry’s plea for contempt proceedings against Imran when the court had already sought in a May 26 order a report from security agencies to examine the contempt matter.

Moreover, the CJP said the court had to decide whether a show-cause notice could be issued to Imran on the basis of the available material.

He noted that the government lawyer had, so far, not specified which leaders were with Imran during the march who were “in contact [with relevant authorities] regarding the case”.

He recalled that Imran had ended the long march when the SC had constituted a larger bench in the case. “The court has to consider the timing.”

Moreover, he said: “Those who reached D-Chowk [on May 25], were they march participants or locals?

“You (Butt) have to explain all these details to us. You have to prove that Imran was aware of the court order. You have to prove that the contempt was committed despite having knowledge of the court order.”

Justice Ahsan stated that “the question is what is the federation’s pretension in the contempt case.”

He added that the PTI had sought permission to stage a protest at the ground between H-9 and G-9. “The intention was that if permission was given for H-9, they would go to D-Chowk,” he said.

But the government lawyer contended that this was not mentioned in the PTI’s reply or undertaking and that Imran intended to reach D-Chowk. “They accepted in the reply that they intended to go to D-Chowk.”

He claimed Imran had been making false statements in his replies, submitted three so far.

“How many false replies will he be allowed to give before he is issued a show-cause notice?” the lawyer commented.

At that, Justice Naqvi enquired whether there were restrictions on staging a protest at D-Chowk.

“Certainly. D-Chowk is located in the Red Zone,” the lawyer replied.

Following that, the court directed the counsel to continue his arguments next hearing and adjourned the session until next week.

The plea

On October 13, the interior ministry instituted contempt of court charges against Imran for allegedly flouting the SC’s May 25 order.

In the May order, the petition recalled, the apex court had directed the PTI to hold his ‘Azadi March’ gathering in 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.

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

The SC 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 said.

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