The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday suspended till March 13 the non-bailable arrest warrants issued against PTI Chairman Imran Khan by a district and sessions court in the Toshakhana reference.
IHC Chief Justice Aamer Farooq announced the verdict after it was reserved earlier in the day. The court also directed the PTI chief to appear before the district and sessions court on March 13.
The 70-year-old ex-premier, who has been recovering from a gunshot injury from an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year, has thrice skipped indictment hearings in an Islamabad sessions court in the case.
He is accused of concealing, in his assets declarations, details of the gifts he retained from the Toshakhana — a repository where presents handed to government officials from foreign officials are kept.
The sessions court was set to indict Imran in the Toshakhana Reference on Feb 28, but his lawyer had requested the judge that he be exempted from the hearing because he had to appear in several other courts. His indictment was deferred twice before.
The judge had then issued arrest warrants for Imran and adjourned the hearing till March 7.
On March 5, an Islamabad police team was sent to Lahore to arrest Imran with the court summons. However, it returned empty-handed after the PTI chief evaded the arrest.
Subsequently, Imran had approached the sessions court for the cancellation of the arrest warrants, arguing that the withdrawal of the summons would enable him “a fair opportunity to appear and defend himself” in the case.
However, the sessions judge rejected his request on March 6 and upheld the warrant, ruling that the PTI chairman “wilfully avoided” appearing before the court.
In a petition filed in the IHC today, Imran prayed that the sessions court’s Feb 28 and March 6 orders be set aside so that he could have a “fair opportunity” to appear in court and defend himself.
At the outset of the hearing, Imran’s lawyers — Ali Bukhari and Qaiser Imam — urged the court to cancel the PTI chief’s arrest warrants.
However, the court remarked that the warrants were not issued for arrests but to frame charges against Imran in the Toshakhana case.
“You appear in court for the framing of charges and then request for an exemption,” Justice Farooq said. “The law is the same for everyone. What can the court do?
“The court has to adopt a legal procedure,” he stressed, saying that Imran had to appear in the sessions court today but he did not.
“You tell, when will he appear?” the judge asked. “Imran Khan has to appear before me as well. He can come on March 9 and appear before the sessions court too.”
At one point during the hearing, the IHC CJ also said that Imran would get “nothing on merit” on the petition. “What can I do? Just give me a date as to when Imran will appear in court.”
Here, the PTI lawyer said that Imran had severe security threats to which the judge replied that everyone was getting threats these days.
“The Islamabad IG has told me that there are security threats to all the judges. He told me to take security. But how will I take security for myself by putting the public at risk?
“Should I shut down the court? We have prepared a security plan for both the high court and the sessions court. You people yourself create security threats,” he said, pointing out that what happened outside the IHC at the previous hearing — on Feb 28 — was in front of everyone.
“What will happen when you bring 2,000 people along with you to court? How did Benazir Bhutto die?” Justice Farooq asked.
He inquired if the PTI lawyers were ready to give an undertaking that Imran wanted to appear before the court. “You are still not ready to appear in court. Be fair with the system, don’t make a joke of it,” Justice Farooq asserted.
At that, Islamabad Advocate General Jahangir Khan Jadoon said: “Here, they are talking about security threats while Imran is preparing for an elections rally.”
However, the judge interjected that he did not want to talk about anything political.
For his part, Bukhari said that several other cases had already been registered against the PTI chairman. “Imran Khan has been kept inside his house. He can’t go out.”
Here, the judge said that it was not possible to give the former premier relief in a case that had not yet been registered.
Subsequently, the court gave the PTI chief’s lawyers 30 minutes to consult with Imran and decide when he will appear before the court.
When the hearing resumed, Imran’s lawyer sought a time of four weeks for Imran’s court appearance.
However, Justice Farooq said that four weeks couldn’t be given. “If you say so, we can tell the sessions court to commence proceedings to declare him an absconder.
“In four weeks, you won’t get a new F-8 Katcheri, it will stay the same,” he said.
At that, Imam requested the judge to grant his client as much time as it is possible.
The court then called AG Jadoon to the rostrum.
“Imran Khan can appear in the courts on March 9. We don’t have a problem. He can appear in the sessions court early morning and come to the IHC by 3pm,” he said.
Here, Imran’s lawyers argued that they had reservations regarding the security to which Justice Farooq said the sessions court would assure the provision of proper security.
“We are not worried about ours but the security of the public,” the judge remarked, saying that the lives of common people were as important as his.
He added that life and death were in God’s hands. “If we die, we die.”
The court then reserved its verdict.
Sessions court hearing
Earlier in the day, the Islamabad sessions court also conducted proceedings in the Toshakhana case.
As the hearing commenced, Imran’s junior lawyer Sardar Masroof Khan appeared in court. PML-N leader Mohsin Shahnawaz and the Election Commission of Pakistan’s counsel Saad Hasan were also in attendance.
At the outset of the hearing, Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal asked the PTI chief’s lawyer if his client won’t appear in court today as well to which Masroof replied that he was unaware of Imran’s appearance in court.
“But his senior legal team will be arriving by 10am,” he said.
“Do you not have any information regarding Imran’s appearance in court?” ADSJ Iqbal inquired. “Is his guarantor not in court?”
Here, the PTI lawyer said that a notice could not be issued to the guarantor because the legal procedure had yet to be completed.
At that, the judge said that the guarantor was bound to ensure that the former prime minister appeared in court.
Meanwhile, the ECP’s counsel said that the court should be informed in the morning if Imran had plans of appearing before the court. “Why do you waste time?” he added.
Subsequently, the hearing was adjourned for some time.
When the hearing resumed, PTI lawyer Sher Afzal Marwat appeared in court and informed the judge that Imran’s legal team was at the IHC. “I will submit my power of attorney in court within a day or two,” he said and then requested that the hearing be adjourned till next week.
ADSJ Iqbal said that the proceedings were underway for Imran’s summons.
“Imran Khan is not feeling well … he has a disability,” Marwat contended, adding that a “circus” regarding his client’s arrest could be seen by everyone across the world.
For his part, ECP’s Hasan urged the court to issue a notice to the PTI chief’s guarantor and cancel his surety. He also requested that the hearing be adjourned till March 9.
At that, Marwat revealed that Imran had to appear before the IHC on March 9 at any cost. “I have been told that it will be easier for Imran to appear in F-8 Katcheri next week,” he added.
Here, the judge remarked: “So this means Imran won’t appear in court even on March 9.”
ADSJ Iqbal noted that Imran’s lawyer was not present in court today, remarking that he was waiting for a decision from the IHC in the case.
“But if the situation remains the same, we can take a decision. Imran has not even once appeared in court in person. And it seems that he won’t appear today as well.”
The judge further remarked that the law was equal for all, highlighting that all the legal requirements would be fulfilled during the case.
Meanwhile, Shahnawaz said that the case was pending in the court for the past six months and the PTI chief had not once appeared before the judge.
Here, ADSJ Iqbal said that not a single case had been dragged on for long in the court. “Imran Khan appeared before other courts but not the sessions court even though his exemption requests were repeatedly accepted,” he added.
The judge then instructed Imran’s lawyer Marwat to submit his power of attorney in court and adjourned the hearing till 2pm.
When the hearing resumed, lawyers Sher Afzal Marwat and Faisal Chaudhry appeared on Imran’s behalf while PML-N leader Mohsin Shahnawaz Ranjha also arrived for the hearing.
Marwat argued before the court that a plea for cancelling the arrest warrants issued for Imran had been filed in the IHC.
At this, the judge remarked that the hearing was adjourned for a short period because of the IHC hearing. “Let’s see but the Toshakhana case will be decided by 3pm,” he said.
Marwat further told the court that there were several reasons behind Imran’s failure to appear before the court. He said that Imran had stated on several occasions that his life was in danger. He added that an attack had also taken place previously at an Islamabad district court.
“The current situation suggests that if an attack were to happen on Imran Khan, it would take place within the courtroom,” the lawyer said. “In addition to the threat to Imran’s lives, there is also a threat to the lives of lawyers, judges and citizens,” he said.
The judge, however, said that arranging security was the court’s responsibility and asked Imran’s counsel to inform him of their reservations. He proposed adjourning the hearing till March 9, saying that he would issue the necessary directives for ensuring security.
But Imran’s lawyer Faisal stated that there was a “high chance” of the PTI chief being attacked during an appearance in court.
At this, PML-N’s Ranjha quipped that Imran could either hand himself over to the police who would then present him before the sessions court or he could be brought to court in an armoured personnel carrier.
The court subsequently adjourned the hearing until the IHC decided the plea filed by the PTI chief seeking the cancellation of the arrest warrants.
The reference, which alleges that Imran had not shared details of the gifts he retained from the Toshaskhana (during his time as the prime minister) and proceeds from their reported sales, was filed by lawmakers from the ruling coalition last year. On October 21, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had concluded that the former premier had indeed made “false statements and incorrect declarations” regarding the gifts.
The Toshakhana is a department under the Cabinet Division that stores gifts given to rulers and government officials by heads of other governments and foreign dignitaries. According to Toshakhana rules, gifts/presents and other such materials received by persons to whom these rules apply shall be reported to the Cabinet Division.
The watchdog’s order had said Imran stood disqualified under Article 63(1)(p) of the Constitution.
Subsequently, the ECP had approached the Islamabad sessions court with a copy of the reference, seeking proceedings against Imran under criminal law for allegedly misleading officials about the gifts he received from foreign dignitaries during his tenure as the prime minister.
ECP issues arrest warrants for Imran
Meanwhile, the Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday issued bailable arrest warrants for Imran and PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry in a case pertaining to using “intemperate language and contemptuous remarks” against Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja.
A four-member ECP bench comprising Nisar Ahmed Durrani, Shah Mohammad Jatoi, Babar Hassan Bharwana and Justice (retired) Ikramullah Khan issued the order.
The order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, stated that Imran had been “deliberately seeking adjournments on one or other pretext”. It added that the PTI chief was “also reluctant to appear before this commission which amounts to mockery on law”.
“Such conduct of respondent could not be tolerable, as his non-appearance before this commission seems to be intentional.”
It said the electoral watchdog was left with no alternative except to issue a bailable warrant in the sum of Rs50,000 with two sureties “in the like amount each”.
“The bailable warrants shall be executed through the Islamabad Inspector General of Police Office to take follow up action forthwith and list the matter on March 14,” it said.
Imran approaches LHC for ‘foolproof security’
The PTI chief also moved the Lahore High Court (LHC) today for the provision of security as well as permission to attend court proceedings via video link.
The petition was fixed for hearing on Wednesday (tomorrow) by Justice Shahid Karim.
The plea mentioned 17 respondents, including the Federation of Pakistan, the Punjab and Islamabad police chiefs, the Lahore commissioner, the Islamabad deputy commissioner and others.
The petition prayed that Imran be provided “foolproof security arrangements” and his safety and well being be ensured.
It requested the court to save Imran from “orchestrated politically motivated false cases”, adding that no adverse action, including arrest, should be taken against the ex-premier till he is “properly facilitated and provided proper security arrangements for court attendance and appearances”.
It also said that strict action should be taken against the respondents for failing to maintain law and order on court premises and during court hearings in cases involving Imran.
Lastly, it stated that taking into account the “serious threat and risk” involved to all those present in court, permission should be granted to mark attendance through video/Skype link.
Additional reporting by Irfan Sadozai and Rana Bilal