The full court bench of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) High Court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas from being a member of the legislative assembly for contempt.
After today’s verdict, Ilyas has ceased to hold the office of the AJK prime minister and the legislative assembly will have to elect a new premier. He has the right to appeal the decision in the AJK Supreme Court.
On Monday, the superior courts of AJK had separately served notices to Ilyas to explain his position with regard to his “derogatory remarks about the superior judiciary in his speeches at public meetings”.
The notices, served through his principal secretary, asked Ilyas to separately appear before the high court and the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
At a function in Islamabad over the weekend, Ilyas had indirectly blamed the judiciary for affecting the functioning of his government and interfering in the domain of the executive through the grant of stay orders.
He had particularly referred to a $15 million Saudi-funded education sector project, saying it had been in a limbo because the court had issued a stay order on it. Similarly, he had also taken strong exception to the “de-sealing by the courts of tobacco factories involved in tax evasion to the tune of billions of rupees”.
During today’s hearing, the court played three video clips of Ilyas, including one of his speech on Saturday, and asked him if he was contesting the charges.
Ilyas replied in the negative and tendered an unconditional apology to the court. “I place myself at the mercy of the court,” he stated.
However, Justice Khalid Rasheed questioned what guarantee there was that Ilyas would not resort to doing the same in the future.
The court subsequently rejected the AJK premier’s apology. Justice Rasheed read out the judgement, sentencing the AJK premier till the rising of the court.
The written order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, said that the court was made aware through social media that Ilyas was “continuously using derogatory statements against the superior judiciary”.
It said that the registrar also presented a newspaper clip pertaining to a speech made by him, following which the Council of Judges decided to issue a notice to him on April 10.
“On the same day, [Ilyas] against used derogatory and indecent statement[s] [in] Islamabad against the superior judiciary and also discussed the matter sub judice before this court,” the order said.
It stated that Ilyas had appeared before the court today and admitted to the contents of the newspaper clippings. “Prima facie, in his statement, contemptuous wording has been used which is against the prestige and independence of [the] judiciary,” it said.
The order said that Ilyas had admitted to the remarks and also refrained from submitting “any other objection or reply” in response to the notice issued. Therefore, “it can be safely held that his said act comes within the ambit of contempt of court under Article 45 of the AJK interim Constitution, 1974.”
The order stated that it had “no cavil to declare that [the] contemnor is guilty of committing contempt of this court”.
“Although, the contemnor is not entitled to get any relief as he continuously scandalised the prestige of higher judiciary at public places but as the contemnor has tendered [an] unconditional apology before the court, hence, we hereby opt a lenient view and punish him till rising of the court under Article 45 of the AJK interim Constitution, 1974.”
The order said that since Ilyas had been “punished by the court”, he stood disqualified from being elected, from being a member of the legislative assembly and from holding any public office for two years.
After the verdict was announced, Ilyas then went to the AJK SC where he again tendered an apology for his remarks. The SC adjourned the hearing for two weeks.
Later, the AJK Election Commission de-notified Ilyas from his seat in the AJK Legislative Assembly.
A notification issued by the commission said: “Pursuant to the judgement dated April 11, 2023 passed by the honourable High Court of Azad Jammu and Kashmir in Robkar Adalat vs Tanvir Ilyas, prime minister of the Goverment of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and sub-article (2) of Article 25 of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Interim Constitution 1974, the chief election commissioner of AJK Legislative Assembly with effect from April 11, 2023 in consequence thereof the notification NO.EC/S/34624-34631/2021 dated July 27, 2021 to the extent of declaring him as a returned candidate from AJK Legislative Assembly’s constituency no.LA-XV Bagh-II stands rescinded with effect from April 11, 2023.”
Respecting courts’ decision is necessary: Fawad
Commenting on Ilyas’ disqualification, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said that whether it was the prime minister of Pakistan or AJK, respecting the decision of the courts was necessary.
“This country cannot be run by destroying the judicial system,” he said, urging Ilyas to apologise and expressing the hope that he would be given relief by the SC. Fawad further stated that the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should learn a lesson from the court’s decision.
Producing the clipping of the premier’s speech in its order, the AJK court said that the matter was discussed in a meeting of the judges’ council “in view of its seriousness” and it was unanimously decided “it could not be overlooked because the dignity and authority of the courts was on stake and nobody could be allowed to undermine it”.
“However, […] before issuing contempt notice we are intended to ask the prime minister to appear in person and explain his position on the referred news,” it added.
The high court order had almost identical observations.
“Prime Minister Tanveer Ilyas has directly threatened the superior judiciary and the language of his speech at a public meeting is highly derogatory, improper and indecently worded,” the order said.
Not only the latest statement, but his “previous track record from several months is [also] objectionable, unbecoming and improper,” it added.
The order said the judges’ council of the high court had unanimously decided not to leave the matter unattended “simply by shutting [its] eye from contemptuous and derogatory statement of the person who is at the helm of affairs.”
“By showing magnanimity and judicial restraint, we have opted, in the beginning of the proceedings, to serve a notice on the prime minister to personally appear before the full court to explain his position.”