MUZAFFARABAD: In a largely unexpected move, the full court bench of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) High Court on Tuesday disqualified Prime Minister Sardar Tanveer Ilyas from being elected or being the member of the Legislative Assembly or from holding any public office for two years after holding him guilty of contempt.

The unanimous decision by all six judges, authored and read out in the jam-pa­c­ked courtroom by Jus­tice Khalid Rasheed, left everyone present shocked as most were expecting that the court would show leniency and accept the unconditional apology tendered by the AJK premier, who belongs to the PTI.

But while the legal team of Mr Ilyas was preparing to file an appeal in the apex court on Wednesday against his conviction, the Election Commission issued a notification of his disqualification “in pursuance of the judgment of the High Court with effect from April 11, 2023.”

According to party sources, PTI Chairman Imran Khan summoned a meeting of the parliamentary party at his Lahore’s Zaman Park residence on Wednesday evening to discuss the situation and find a solution.

Earlier on Monday, both the AJK Supreme Court and the AJK High Court had separately served notices on Prime Minister Ilyas to explain his position with regard to his “derogatory remarks about superior judiciary in his speeches at public meetings”.

Both courts had particularly referred to his “contemptuous” speech at an event in Islamabad over the weekend by reproducing in their notices its coverage in one of the vernacular newspapers.

Mr Ilyas, who was in Islamabad for the past several days, was asked to appear in person at the High Court at 10:30am and at the Supreme Court at 12:30pm.

On Tuesday, the administration had taken strict security measures in the vicinity of both courts which lie adjacent to each other in Chattar neighbourhood. The prime minister flew into the state capital by a helicopter and arrived at the High Court building at about 11:45pm.

In courtroom number one, the prime minister stood behind the rostrum and tendered an unconditional apology for any of his “words or sentences that had hurt the court.”

However, Chief Justice Sadaqat Hussain Raja asked him to first watch clips of his speeches and media talks on a multimedia screen installed in the courtroom.

Afterwards, the judges started questioning Mr Ilyas. “Do you verify that it’s your statement,” Justice Rasheed asked, telling him that he should reply in the affirmative or in the negative.

In the ensuing proceedings, the bench ran the video clips once again and referring to his utterances asked Mr Ilyas that whether it did not amount to contempt of court? Initially reluctant to give a direct reply, he however admitted that it amounted to contempt.

As Mr Ilyas reiterated his apology, the bench asked him to sign a paper containing his response to their questions. The bench asked him to submit a written apology in person at 1:30pm.

When the court resumed proceedings, the bench rejected the apology by Mr Ilyas and held him guilty of contempt.

“Mr Tanveer Ilyas has admitted the contents of the newspaper clippings in the open court. Prima facie, in his statement, contemptuous wording has been used which is against the prestige and independence of [the] judiciary… He has submitted his reply, stating therein that if in any way the prestige and status of judiciary is hurt, he tenders unconditional apology and places himself at the mercy of the court,” the judgement noted.

As the contemnor himself admitted remarks pertaining to the contempt and also refrained from submitting “any other objection or reply” in response to the “show cause notice issued in the open court,” 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,” added the judgement.

“We have 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 the higher judiciary at public places, but as he has tendered [an] unconditional apology before the court, we hereby opt a lenient view and punish him till rising of the court under Article 45 of the AJK interim Constitution, 1974.”

After the verdict was announced, Mr Ilyas, who was accompanied by many cabinet members and a large number of PTI workers, drove to the PM House, from where he came to the Supreme Court at the revised time of 2:30pm. There he also tendered an apology before the full court bench, comprising all three permanent judges.

“I cannot even imagine committing contempt of court,” he said when Chief Justice Raja Saeed Akram, while referring to the video clips, asked him if he confirmed that he had uttered contemptuous remarks.

“You are under an obligation to come to the aid of the Supreme Court. You can’t discuss any case subjudice in the court. You must give respect to the court. We also have great respect for you because you are holding a prestigious office of the state… That’s why with a heavy heart we have asked you to appear before us in person,” the CJ said.

In his order dictated in the open court, CJ Akram said: “[…] without going to the stance taken by Sardar Tanveer Ilyas the material placed before the court is sufficient to form that prima facie contempt has been committed which amounts to undermine the authority of the court and trying to ridicule and scandalise the judges of court.”

“However, in order to meet the ends of justice and principles of fair trial the respondent is directed to submit his written reply within two weeks,” he concluded while adjourning the proceedings.

Meanwhile, official sources confirmed to Dawn on late Tuesday evening that after the issuance of disqualification notification, the chief secretary’s office was preparing a summary for the president, under Article 17(1) of the AJK Constitution, to call upon the most senior minister, Khawaja Farooq Ahmed, to perform the functions of prime minister until the election of a new prime minister.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2023

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