An Islamabad district and sessions court on Thursday rejected PTI chairman Imran Khan’s plea seeking the suspension of non-bailable arrest warrants issued for the ex-premier in the Toshakhana case.

Announcing the verdict which was reserved earlier today, Additional District and Sessions (ADSJ) Judge Zafar Iqbal said the warrants could not be suspended on the basis of an undertaking.

He passed the order while hearing the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) reference seeking criminal proceedings against former prime minister Imran Khan for concealing details of Toshakhana gifts.

The written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said it was “quite obvious from the record that the applicant has never appeared in the court on any date of hearing and his personal appearance has been exempted on four occasions”.

It further said that many people had been injured and vehicles had been damaged in executing the arrest warrant and the PTI chief had “challenged the dignity and writ of the state”.

“Brutal force has been used in obstruction of police officials for discharge of their duty and after creating such [a] state of affairs, the applicant may not claim suspension of the warrant […],” the order said.

It further said: “Keeping in view [the] law and order situation created by the applicant, he has lost some of the normal rights granted by procedural as well as substantive laws and he has to actually surrender before the court due to his defiance of [the] court process. Such eventuality is never appreciated by the court and it is regarded as willful default.”

The order said that law was equal for the powerful and weak segments of society and “it is not a fun (sic) to tender such an undertaking after causing such a great loss to the public exchequer as well as damage to persons and property”.

The order said a “poor nation” had spent millions of rupees for executing the warrant due to Imran’s conduct. It ended by saying that the application was “not justified by law as well as fact” and was hereby rejected.

The sessions court was set to indict Imran in the 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 multiple times before.

The judge had subsequently issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran and instructed the police to present him in court by March 7. The PTI chief managed to dodge the arrest and later approached the Islamabad High Court (IHC) for the cancellation of the warrants.

The IHC, while granting some relief to Imran, had told him to appear in the sessions court by March 13, but the former prime minister once again skipped the hearing. Resultantly, ADSJ Iqbal had on Monday re-issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Imran and directed the police to bring him to court by March 18.

However, when the police reached Imran’s Zaman Park residence in Lahore to arrest him on Tuesday, they were met with resistance, leading to two-day pitched battles between PTI supporters and law enforcement agencies. The clashes ultimately subsided after the courts intervened on Wednesday.

That same day, the PTI also challenged the latest arrest warrants issued for Imran in the IHC. It rejected the plea and directed the PTI chief to submit an undertaking to the trial court which states he would attend the hearing on March 18.

On Thursday, Imran’s lawyers Khawaja Haris Ahmed, Intizar Panjhota and Babar Awan were present on his behalf, while ECP counsel Saad Hassan was also in attendance.

The hearing

As the proceedings commenced, the judge remarked that the court had not yet received the high court’s directives as per judicial procedures.

“Do you think a notice should be issued to the ECP regarding the case being maintainable,” ADSJ Iqbal asked. “This matter can be resolved in a second … where is Imran Khan?

“When has Imran appeared in court in person? What is the concept of an undertaking,” he inquired.

At that, Haris asked if it was necessary to arrest his client to bring him to court.

“We want Imran to come to court. Why is he not coming? What is the reason? Imran Khan has to assist the police according to the law, not resist them,” the judge remarked, adding that had the warrants been bailable, there would have been no issue.

“But the warrants are non-bailable.”

Here, Haris read the IHC’s order out loud in court. However, the judge stated that the arguments presented by the counsel were for bailable warrants.

“There already is a surety in the case,” ADSJ Iqbal pointed out. “In its verdict, the IHC has also said that the court order should not be affected by any illegal actions.”

Meanwhile, Haris argued that a surety had already been submitted in the court and his client was ready to give an undertaking as well. “Do you want to remain strict and uphold Imran’s non-bailable arrest warrants?”

The judge stated that the warrants were issued for Imran’s appearance in the case to which the lawyer stated that Imran wanted to come to court.

“Imran is not asking for an exemption, he wants to come to court,” Haris said. “But, at this moment, are non-bailable warrants necessary for an arrest?” he asked.

The lawyer contended that the court had two options. “The first is that you accept the undertaking and suspend the non-bailable arrest warrants and the second is that you take a surety and issue bailable arrest warrants,” he proposed.

Haris also clarified that Imran wanted to give an undertaking that he would appear in court on March 18.

Here, ADSJ Iqbal remarked that the arrest warrant — issued for Imran — had become the most expensive warrant in the world. “Millions of rupees have been spent [to execute] this warrant.

“What happened shouldn’t have taken place,” the judge asserted.

Haris agreed with ADSJ Iqbal and then urged the court to suspend Imran’s warrants. He also requested that the ECP lawyer be issued notices and called for arguments.

But the judge asked: “Why is the situation bad outside Zaman Park right now?”

Imran’s lawyer replied that the government was carrying out a political vendetta through arrests. “In more than three incidents, there have been instances of torture and case have been registered against people.”

Here, ADSJ Iqbal said that he would stop the Islamabad police from the arrest if Imran surrendered in court. “Legally, Imran should have been directly brought to court… it wouldn’t have been possible to harass him during the court appearance.”

“Section 91 has been violated but the arrest warrants were issued under Section 93,” he added.

The judge also said Pakistan was a poor country and there was no need to spend millions of rupees on the warrants. “If a date is mentioned on the warrant, it doesn’t mean that action should be taken that day only … it means that the person be arrested and presented in court whenever possible.

The police cannot sit outside doing nothing, he added.

ADSJ Iqbal further asked why Imran resisted the warrants that were legally issued. “This is the money of the public. You could have held a peaceful protest.”

In criminal proceedings, he went on to say, arrest warrants were usually issued and then cancelled after the suspect appeared in court.

At one point, Imran’s lawyers presented his undertaking in court and requested that the non-bailable arrest warrants for him be forthwith suspended.

However, the judge issued notices to the secretariat police and ECP and summoned them to court. The hearing was subsequently adjourned till 12pm.

When the hearing resumed, ECP’s representative requested the court to adjourn the hearing till 2:30pm, saying that Saad Hassan — the commission’s lawyer — was in Peshawar and would reach Islamabad shortly.

Here, Imran’s lawyer Haris requested the police to suspend the PTI chief’s arrest warrants given the present situation outside Zaman Park — where workers and police have gathered once again.

“The IHC had also stated in its order that Imran’s undertaking be shown in the trial court and a decision is taken,” he contended, adding that the high court had not disposed of the PTI plea and instead told them to consult with the trial court.

“This was a completely simple matter but it has now become complicated,” the judge remarked. “As far as the arrest is concerned, we want to cooperate with you.

“Your security and other matter are also important to us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Haris insisted that the court had the authority to suspend the warrants in the prevalent circumstances.

“Let’s see … let’s hear the arguments of the complainant,” ADSJ Iqbal replied.

He also remarked that he found the “obstruction” in Imran’s arrest “strange” and it wasn’t required. “Political workers should be told that they need to cooperate with the law and not resist it,” he added.

For his part, Haris once again asked the court to view the case in light of the IHC’s orders and then take a decision.

Here, the court again adjourned the hearing till 2:30pm.

When the hearing resumed for the third time, ECP lawyer Saad Hassan and Islamabad Inspector General Dr Akbar Nasir Khan appeared in court.

“IG sahab, tell us why did you not implement the arrest warrants?” ADSJ Iqbal asked. “What do you say? Should an exemption be given [to Imran] or not?”

The official replied that the Islamabad police officials, who had gone to Lahore, were not even allowed to meet Imran. “Political workers used force to stop the police.”

IG Nasir elaborated that policemen were hit with stones, sticks and stones. “Today, I have come to court on behalf of the 65 policemen who were injured [during the operation] and are in hospitals,” he said, adding that never before had the police faced something as such.

The police official further revealed that the security personnel at Zaman Park was unarmed. He presented the list of injured officers in court along with pictures from the scene.

“My opinion is that if you want to give leeway to one person then the same should be given to 22 billion people as well. The law is equal for all,” he stressed.

At this point, PTI lawyers in court interrupted in disagreement.

On the other hand, the judge inquired about the damage to property during the operation to which IG Nasir said that 10 police vans and water canons were burnt down. The extent of damage is being determined in Lahore, he added.

Here, ECP’s Hassan began presenting the arguments. He said that this was not the first time Imran had given an undertaking to the court, pointing out that earlier too his promises were not fulfilled.

“On several occasions, even I said he should be given leverage,” he recalled. “But Imran took out a rally in Lahore … his excuses regarding security are unacceptable.”

Hassan went on to say that it was even possible for an MPA to bring 2,000 people to the streets and create a law and order situation.

“I have no objections if Imran presents before the court on March 18 but he is being given extraordinary relief,” he contended, stressing that the law didn’t allow cancellation of arrest warrants without an appearance.

The lawyer further clarified that the IHC had not issued any directives to the trial court, but had in fact instructed the suspect to consult with the latter.

“The only difference is that the undertaking has Imran’s signatures today,” he said. He also recalled that went the first time police had gone to arrest Imran, they were told that he wasn’t present. “And at the second time, the police were attacked.”

The lawyer highlighted that there was no difference in the undertakings Imran submitted earlier and today except for a few “spelling mistakes”, adding that even “touts” could submit such documents.

For his part, Imran’s lawyer Haris stated that the IHC had told the petitioner to take the undertaking to the trial court and approve surety after verifying it.

“I haven’t talked about the cancellation of warrants, but about their suspension,” he argued. “It is just a matter of two days. Imran will appear in court on March 18.”

Subsequently, the court reserved its verdict in the case. ADSJ Zafar Iqbal said that a detailed order will be issued. “I will leave only after writing and signing the order,” he assured the respondents.

The judge also told them that there was no point in waiting in court because “I don’t know how long it will take to complete the order”.

Toshakhana case

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.

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