The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday issued bailable arrest warrants for PTI chairman Imran Khan and party leaders Fawad Chaudhry and Asad Umar in cases related to the contempt of the electoral body.

The order was passed by a four-member ECP bench headed by member Nisar Durrani.

The ECP had in August and September last year issued notices, in exercise of its powers of contempt, to Imran, Umar, Chaudhry, Mian Shabbir Ismail and Danial Khalid Khokhar for allegedly using “intemperate” language against Chief Election Commissioner Sikander Sultan Raja and the electoral watchdog.

Party leaders have repeatedly bashed the commission and Raja over what they claim is their partisanship and frequently pillory the electoral body as a “subsidiary of the PML-N”.

At the previous hearing, the ECP had given the PTI leaders a last chance to appear before the commission, warning that their absence before the commission at the next hearing on January 17 would result in the issuance of arrest warrants.

During the hearing today, the ECP rejected the pleas of PTI leaders seeking an exemption from appearing before the commission and issued arrest warrants for them against surety bonds worth Rs50,000 each.

The bench, subsequently, adjourned the hearing till Jan 17.

Reacting to the development, Umar tweeted that the ECP, instead of fulfilling its responsibilities, had indulged in such actions. “They themselves are guilty of contempt of court by not holding Islamabad elections,” he said.

Chaudhry said he would file contempt of court proceedings against the electoral watchdog.

“The case was supposed to be heard on Jan 17 but it was fixed today in violation of the rules. This is another biased verdict issued by the ECP members,” he added.

Meanwhile, PTI lawyer Babar Awan claimed that the ECP was being used to run a campaign against Imran.

“They are just trying to somehow disqualify him. But let me tell you, this minus-one formula won’t work on Imran Khan,” he told reporters outside a court in Islamabad.

Contempt cases

When the ECP had issued contempt notices to PTI leaders last year, it had instructed them to appear in person or through their counsels before the commission to explain their position.

However, instead of appearing before the ECP, the PTI leaders challenged in various high courts the ECP notices and contempt proceedings on the grounds that Section 10 of the Elections Act 2017, which is the statutory provision regarding the commission’s power to punish for contempt, was against the Constitution.

According to the Election Act 2017, Section 10 titled “Power to punish for contempt” states that the “election commission may exercise the same power as the high court to punish any person for contempt of court and the Contempt of Court Ordinance, 2003 (V of 2003), or any other law pertaining to contempt of court shall have effect accordingly[…]”

The PTI leaders had also sought from the high courts a declaratory relief from the charges.

Later, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court through Advocate Sajeel Sheryar Swati on behalf of the ECP with a request to order consolidation of all six petitions before one high court instead of defending the commission’s stance over the issuance of contempt notices against PTI leaders in different high courts.

Last week, the apex court had held that since the objections to ECP authority were raised by the respondents in the pending proceedings under Section 10, the same was required to be considered and decided by ECP before passing a final order on the matter.

Regarding ECP’s request to club together all petitions pending against it before the high courts, the top court accepted the ECP plea that it would be satisfied if the high courts were directed to decide the pending petitions at the earliest.

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