• Imran marks attendance at entrance to judicial complex
• Ex-PM asked to appear in person on March 30 in Toshakhana case
• Capital remains in throes of violence for hours

ISLAMABAD: After a long day of clashes that brought life in Islamabad to a standstill and left many gasping for breath, the trial court hearing the Toshakhana reference against Imran Khan cancelled the former premier’s arrest warrants and adjourned the hearing till March 30 after marking his attendance.

As the former prime minister arrived in the capital for the hearing, the police and PTI supporters clashed several times at different locations, resulting in injuries to at least 25 people as a result of violence which witnessed a liberal use of teargas, batons, and rocks.

The party supporters also burnt down a police post as they scuttled all attempts by the police to keep them at the bay. The violence which started with the entry of Imran Khan in Islamabad lasted till his return to Lahore. The clashes also became the reason that the court allowed Mr Khan to go back after marking his attendance and asked him to appear in the courtroom on March 30.

At the next hearing, the court will hear the application against the maintainability of the complaint filed by the ECP.

Additional District and Sessions Judge Zafar Iqbal was scheduled to indict Mr Khan in the Toshakhana case. However, he deferred the proceedings due to a law and order situation and scuffles between the police and PTI activists. Advocate Babar Awan requested the court to adjourn the proceedings, as the situation was “going out of control”.

Subsequently, the judge directed his staff to mark Mr Khan’s attendance at the main entrance to the Federal Judicial Complex which was treated as his physical appearance in the courtroom. However, the order of the court sent to the main gate of the complex went ‘missing’ and the police and PTI leaders accused each other of missing the document.

Curfew at judicial complex

There was a curfew-like situation around the Federal Judicial Complex ahead of Mr Khan’s arrival. The police allocated only one entry point at Srinagar Highway to access the FJC.

When Mr Khan’s convoy reached Kallar Kahar, the Islamabad police also suspended the Metro Bus Service from Peshawar More to Airport.

The PTI workers and the police had a scuffle at the entry point of the complex where the latter fired teargas in response to stone pelting by the former on the officials. The police decided to allow Mr Khan’s vehicle to enter the complex for his appearance before the judge whose court was shifted from F-8 Markaz to the FJC by the order of the chief commissioner.

Mr Khan requested to change the venue of the court to the same place on Feb 28, but at the time, the ADSJ rejected the request. The chief commissioner, however, allowed the shifting of the court for one time only.

Judge Iqbal resumed hearing of the proceeding at about 3:30pm; however, he was apprised that the PTI chairman could not reach. Advocate Khawaja Haris informed the court that Mr Khan has almost reached but he was taking some time to arrive at the FJC because of security hurdles.

The prosecution termed the absence as deliberate and said that the PTI chief knew the court timing starts at 8am but he left his Zaman Park residence at 8:30am.

Meanwhile, Mr Khan in a phone call to PTI General Secretary Asad Umar said that he has been kept waiting outside the FJC for 15-20 minutes. He said police did not want him to appear before the court, but he will try to reach the courtroom. The judge then went to his chamber and kept waiting for his arrival.

Scuffle at FJC

In the meanwhile, scores of PTI supporters managed to reach outside the FJC where another round of brawl started between police and political workers. The police used teargas and got paid in the same coin. The stones and smoke of teargas also affected those sitting within the premises of the FJC.

It may be mentioned that the same court issued his arrest warrants on March 6 which were stayed by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) as Mr Khan intended to appear on March 13. In his absence, the trial court re-issued the warrant on the same date, and the PTI chief challenged this before the IHC with an undertaking to appear on March 18.

IHC Chief Justice referred the matter to the trial court and ADSJ Iqbal in a written order elaborated on the issuance of non-bailable warrants issued by a court for procuring the attendance of an accused and said that these warrants might be recalled after the suspect turned himself in.

Pleas in IHC

Meanwhile, PTI lawyers advocate Faisal Hussain, advocate Mohammad Ali Bukhari and others filed petitions in the IHC asking it to stop the law enforcement and investigation agencies from arresting Mr Khan.

One of the petitions highlighted obstruction to access the anti-terrorism court where the counsel was intended to appear in a pending bail matter of Mr Khan, while another petition sought a blanket order for the PTI chief against his possible arrest.

The IHC registrar’s office fixed pleas for hearing on Monday.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2023

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