An Islamabad court on Thursday granted police two-day physical remand of Awami Muslim League (AML) leader and PTI ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, hours after the politician was arrested in connection with remarks he made against former president Asif Ali Zardari.
Ahmed was arrested on a police complaint filed by Raja Inayatur Rehman, the vice president of PPP Rawalpindi Division, wherein he said that the AML chief, in a television interview on Jan 27, alleged that Zardari got the assistance of some terrorists to plan Imran’s murder.
PTI chief Imran Khan in a television address on Jan 27 had alleged that Zardari was behind a fresh assassination plot — a “plan C” — and that a terror group had been engaged for the purpose. He offered no evidence to back up his accusation.
During the hearing today presided over by Judicial Magistrate Omar Shabbir, the police requested Ahmed’s eight-day physical remand while the prosecution also requested the politician’s physical remand.
The court announced the reserved verdict, granting the police 2-day physical remand of the AML chief.
At the outset of the hearing, the prosecutor presented the case record in the court and the police requested the court for Ahmed’s eight-day remand.
The AML chief asked, “First, open my handcuffs.” He lamented, “I have been a minister 16 times. Why isn’t the handcuff being opened? They’ve put it on for the whole night.” Accepting his demand, the police opened the handcuffs.
Upon Prosecutor Adnan reading out the case registered against Ahmed, the judge asked, “Show me that sentence in the case where Section 120 is applicable.”
The prosecutor asserted, “Sheikh Rashid is creating danger for Asif Zardari’s family. According to the sections, Sheikh Rashid can be sentenced to seven years in jail and be fined.”
He argued, “Sheikh Rashid gave the statement that Asif Ali Zardari has conspired to kill Imran Khan. In Pakistan, people can be ready to slit throats at the smallest things.
“Imran Khan has been attacked previously as well. There has been an attempt to create incitement between the parties of Imran Khan and Asif Zardari. Asif Zardari and his family’s life is at risk.” The prosecutor then requested a physical remand of the AML chief.
The judge then asked, “Has Asif Zardari told you that he’s in danger?” The prosecutor responded that Ahmed has given the statement himself.
Prosecutor Adnan then closed his arguments by asserting that Ahmed’s voice-matching test needs to be conducted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and a photogrammetric test is needed as well, emphasising that they were “incredibly important” during the trial.
Ahmed’s lawyers, Sardar Abdul Razik Khan and Intizar Panjhota, then presented their arguments.
“The season of political vendetta is ongoing and Sheikh Rashid was made its target,” he said. “Political parties criticise each other every other day. If such cases keep being registered, then no politician will be able to talk.”
He argued that cases registered under Sections 505 and 153 could only be registered by the federal or provincial government. He further said that a PPP worker had filed the case and not Zardari.
He repeated Ahmed’s claims about the police ransacking his house and misbehaving with the employees, stating that police had arrested his client in Rawalpindi without a warrant.
Ahmed’s other lawyer, Panjhota, argued that the prosecution was seeking physical remand just for recording a statement. “Physical remand cannot be granted just for recording a statement.”
For his part, the AML chief told the court that a plan was being prepared to either send the PTI chief to jail or to disqualify him prior to elections.
He argued that giving statements to the media was “also my salary in a way”.
“Imran Khan told me he has evidence that Zardari wants to kill him [so] I said that Imran has evidence against Zardari […] You can file a defamation case against me [instead],” he said, adding that he considered Imran’s claims to be true.
The court reserved the verdict after hearing the arguments.
The early-morning arrest
Confirming the arrest, his nephew Sheikh Rashid Shafique told Geo News that the AML chief was arrested from his home in a private housing society in Islamabad.
The first information report (FIR) — a copy of which is available with Dawn.com — was registered at Islamabad’s Aabpara Police Station under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups, etc) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
In remarks quoted by BBC Urdu, Ahmed claimed that around 300 to 400 policemen barged into his house, thrashed staffers, and forcibly took him away.
He alleged that some [personnel] used ladders to enter his house. He went on to say that he had been arrested despite getting relief from the Islamabad High Court (IHC).
The AML leader vowed to challenge his arrest in court.
Several hours before, he posted a photograph on Twitter of him smiling at the Aabpara Police Station.
In a video message shared by the PTI on its official Twitter account, Ahmed told journalists that police ransacked his house and beat up domestic staffers while attempting to arrest him.
He claimed that lawyer Mian Tahir had secured his bail and went on to allege that Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah was behind the incident.
“The IG has been summoned on Feb 6 [for this imove],” the AML chief said, adding “justice will prevail and we are with Imran Khan”.
Islamabad police statement
Responding to Ahmed’s claims, the Islamabad Police tweeted a clarification stating, “There were no children present at Sheikh Rashid’s home. Neither were any glasses broken nor anything was ransacked.”
It claimed the AML chief had misbehaved with police officials and used foul language against them. The police asserted neither Ahmed nor any employee present at his home was “mistreated in any way”.
It went on to “strongly condemn negative propaganda” and asked for “protests inside and outside the courts to be held in accordance with the law”.
The statement asserted that Ahmed “would not be hurt in any way” and the police had shown patience even after the AML chief’s misbehaviour.
Later in the day, another FIR was registered against Ahmed at the Aabpara police station for manhandling a police officer and tearing his uniform.
According to the FIR, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the case was registered under Section 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), and Section 506ii (punishment for criminal intimidation: If threat be to cause death or grievous hurt, etc) of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The complaint stated that when the police went to arrest the ex-interior minister from his house, he came to the door with two unidentified persons who were armed.
The complaint said that police told Ahmed he was nominated in a case and had to be escorted to the relevant police station. At this, the AML chief and the two persons with him began quarreling with the police during which a policeman, identified as Usman Zahoor, was manhandled and his uniform was torn.
The FIR added that Ahmed used abusive language and threatened the policemen saying: “I have stayed a minister many times and I will not leave any one of you alive”.
Reacting to the arrest, the PTI chairman condemned the move. “Never in our history have we had such a biased, vindictive caretaker government appointed by [a] totally discredited ECP.
“Question is: can Pakistan afford a street movement which we are being pushed towards at a time when we have been bankrupted by [the] imported government?” he tweeted.
The FIR filed against the AML leader claimed that Ahmed’s statement was made as part of a conspiracy to defame the former president and create a permanent threat to his family.
“He wants to create conflict and enmity between two groups – PPP and PTI – with this fabricated and baseless conspiracy so that the peace of the country can be disturbed,” it added.
The court also issued notices to the Islamabad police chief and asked him to nominate a senior officer who could apprise the high court of the facts related to the case. The former interior minister had claimed that he had “inside information of the murder conspiracy” and that the former president had allegedly hired “assassins to kill Imran Khan”.
In the petition, Sheikh Rashid challenged the notice issued to him by the local police and dubbed the notice as contradictory to different provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). Further hearing has been adjourned until Feb 6.
By Wednesday afternoon, Ahmed’s nephew Rashid Shafique filed a contempt petition against Aabpara Station House Officer Ashfaq Warraich in the IHC, arguing that the respondent was directed by court vide to bring the entire record of the case and had also suspended the operation of the notice. He requested the court to hold him in contempt for “ignoring” the court’s orders.
On the wrong side of the law
The arrest comes amid a raft of legal moves against PTI leaders and their allies. Last week, PTI Fawad Chaudhry was arrested for allegedly making threats against ECP members’ families. He later received bail. PML-Q leader Chaudhry Parvez Elahi said his Gujrat house was raided. A sedition case was filed against former PTI MNA Shandana Gulzar Khan. Imran Khan-leaning journalist Imran Riaz Khan was arrested today.
And before Sheikh Rashid’s arrest, his famed Lal Haveli residence was sealed by authorities.
Earlier this week, the two units of the Ahmed’s Lal Haveli residence in Rawalpindi and five adjoining units were sealed by the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the FIA over “illegal occupation”.
Subsequently, Ahmed approached the Lahore High Court against the move, stating that the ETPB officials were “misusing their powers under the orders of political high-ups”. Admitting his plea, the LHC ordered the board to settle matters of the property’s ownership within 15 days and also chided the ETPB for its ambiguous stance pertaining to the issue.