Two non-bailable arrest warrants were issued for PTI chairman and former prime minister Imran Khan on Monday after he failed to appear in courts in cases linked to the Toshakhana reference and threatening a woman additional district and sessions judge.
The 70-year-old ex-premier has been recovering from a gunshot injury from an assassination attempt in Wazirabad last year and has skipped hearings in several cases.
The PTI chief was supposed to appear before two district and session courts in Islamabad today but Imran’s lawyers filed petitions seeking an exemption from the hearings citing security reasons.
The courts of Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal (hearing the Toshakhana case) and Senior Civil Judge Rana Mujahid Rahim (hearing the judge threatening case) issued arrest warrants for Imran and instructed the police to present him before the courts on March 18 and March 21, respectively.
The court of ADSJ Zafar Iqbal restored non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran in the Toshakhana reference. It instructed the police to arrest the PTI chief and present him in court by March 18.
Imran has thrice skipped indictment hearings 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 Islamabad High Court last week seeking the cancellation of his arrest warrants.
On March 7, the IHC had suspended Imran’s non-bailable arrest warrants till March 13 and instructed him to appear before the sessions court.
At the outset of the proceedings today, Imran’s counsel Khawaja Haris informed the court that his client was not able to appear today. “He is not refusing to appear, but due to security threats he cannot be present,” he said.
Haris said similar appeals had also been filed before the Lahore High Court and the Islamabad High Court.
The ex-PM’s counsel also raised objections to complaints filed by the ECP against the PTI chief in the case.
He recalled that the IHC had asked the sessions court to initiate legal proceedings against the PTI chief as per the law if he failed to appear before the court on March 13.
“Examining the matter in accordance with the law means that the court should also assess the admissibility of the complaint,” Haris stated.
He went on to say that around 40 cases had been registered against Imran across the country. He said former premier late Benazir Bhutto was also not given the security that she should have been given.
“What happened to Liaquat Ali Khan is also a part of history.”
Meanwhile, ECP counsel Saad Hassan, while presenting his arguments, said the case remained admissible for hearing until a decision was announced by the court.
He insisted that the ECP suspended Imran’s arrest warrants just for a few days and asked him to appear before the court.
He said the PTI chief’s arrest warrants were still “on the field”.
Here, the court asked the ECP counsel if he wanted more time to file a reply on a plea challenging the maintainability of the commission’s complaints. The lawyer replied in the affirmative.
Imran’s lawyer urged the court to hear the plea today and announce its verdict.
On the other hand, while presenting his arguments on Imran’s plea for exemption, ECP lawyer Amjad Pervaiz said that everyone in the country had security threats but court proceedings could not be stopped for this reason.
He contended relief could not be given to a person whose arrest warrants had been issued, saying that Imran didn’t have “concrete reasons” for not appearing before the court.
“Imran is about to take out a rally in Lahore today,” he noted. “It is the responsibility of the state to provide him security.
“But by sitting at home, Imran has challenged the court’s orders. There is no reason to dismiss the Toshakhana case against him,” Pervaiz stressed, adding that the court granted relief to the PTI chief several times but he only “took advantage of it”.
“Is Imran the only former prime minister who has been summoned to court? The Islamabad IG should immediately be directed to issue arrest warrants for him,” he demanded.
The lawyer also said that he was prepared to present arguments on the maintainability of the case but insisted that Imran should first appear in court. “Imran’s attitude is not appropriate as per the court’s orders. He is misusing the IHC’s orders.”
For his part, the PTI chief’s lawyer said that the IHC would be hearing a plea regarding allowing Imran to attend hearings via video link on Wednesday. “Can we not wait until that? What is the hurry?”
As the arguments concluded, the judge reserved the verdict on the plea for Imran’s exemption and said that the decision would be announced at 3:15pm.
Judge threatening case
Earlier today, the court of Senior Civil Judge Rana Mujahid Rahim also issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran in a case pertaining to using threatening language against a woman additional district and sessions judge and senior police officers.
The court instructed the police to arrest the former prime minister and present him before the court by March 29. It also said that arguments on Imran’s petition seeking to be dismissed from the case will be heard in the next proceedings.
The PTI chairman had on August 20 condemned the police as well as the judiciary over the alleged custodial torture of Shahbaz Gill and announced that his party would file cases against Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dr Akbar Nasir Khan, the DIG and Additional District and Sessions Judge Zeba Chaudhry.
Initially, Imran was booked under various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Besides, Islamabad High Court (IHC) also initiated contempt of court proceedings against him.
Later, the IHC removed the terrorism charges against Imran and also pardoned him after he tendered an apology in the contempt case. However, a similar case, filed after the registration of a first information report (FIR) against him for threatening the judge, is pending before the sessions court.
As the hearing resumed today, the PTI filed a plea requesting an exemption from personal appearance for Imran.
However, Judge Rahim issued a warning that non-bailable arrest warrants could be issued for the former premier if he failed to appear before the court today.
After a brief recess in the hearing, Imran’s counsel Naeem Panjotha filed another petition seeking the acquittal of his client in the case.
He said the in-person appearance of an application was not mandatory in the acquittal plea.
After hearing arguments, the judge reserved judgment on the exemption plea and said it would be announced later today.
PTI challenges arrest warrant in judge threatening case
Later in the day, PTI Senior Vice President Fawad Chaudhry said the arrest warrant in the judge threatening case was challenged in the district court. He said the party was waiting for the written order in the Toshakhana and would challenge that as well in the Islamabad High Court.
“At this time Imran Khan is not wanted in any case at this time,” he said.
LHC suspends ECP’s arrest warrants for Imran, Fawad
Separately, the Lahore High Court’s (LHC) Rawalpindi bench suspended Imran and PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry’s bailable arrest warrants in a case pertaining to the contempt of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
A three-judge bench comprising Justices Chaudhry Abdul Aziz, Sadaqat Ali Khan and Mirza Waqas Rauf heard the case today at the LHC Rawalpindi registry.
Advocate Faisal Chaudhry represented Imran and Fawad in the court. At the hearing’s outset, the court observed that the petition of arrest warrants and contempt of ECP was already pending before the electoral watchdog and questioned how it could then hear the matter.
It said that the petition submitted in the ECP must be withdrawn or the ECP should hear the matter.
The court advised taking new directions from Imran and Fawad.
Resuming the hearing after a short break, the bench announced its verdict to suspend the arrest warrants.
The court also directed the ECP to sort out the issue of the electoral watchdog’s jurisdiction.