RAWALPINDI: Former prime minister Imran Khan on Wednesday said that the Punjab government had imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) to hamper the upcoming show of power by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s candidates.

He was speaking to media persons after attending proceedings of GBP190 million, Toshakhana, and cipher cases.

Accountability judge Mohammad Bashir deferred the indictment of Mr Khan in the £190m reference as the defence counsel was absent.

Judge of Special Court (Official Secrets Act) Abual Hasnat Mohammad Zulqarnain, on the other hand, concluded the cross-examination of four prosecution witnesses in the cipher case.

Indictment of former PM deferred in £190m case; cross-examination concluded in cipher case; ECP to proceed against Imran, Fawad after polls

There are 25 prosecution witnesses to be cross-examined by the counsel for Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The witnesses cross-examined on Wednesday included Deputy Director of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Iqra Ashraf, Imran Sajid, Shamoon Qaiser and cipher assistant Mohammad Nauman.

Later, Mr Khan told media persons that the caretaker government, a few individuals in the establishment and the Election Commission of Pakistan are united against his party.

He claimed that PTI had an overwhelming vote bank within the armed forces and the party would not be deterred whatever coercive measure were adopted to suppress its voice.

Mr Khan said he never witnessed such a pre-poll rigging in the country’s history and they planned to rig Feb 8 elections, but they would see the public rage on the election day.

In reply to a question about the possibility of a deal with stakeholders, Mr Khan said that the only deal in which he is now interested is holding of free and transparent elections.

He said the prevailing mindset of the power corridors is harmful for the country and the election is for “real freedom”.

The former prime minister said he has applied to cast the vote through the postal ballot.

He said Section 144 has been imposed after he had asked the PTI candidates to hold large-scale public meetings.

He expressed apprehensions that the government would not allow PTI candidates to hold their show of power.

The former prime minister claimed that the PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif is behind the imposition of Section 144, as he has failed to bring out people in his public meetings.

He said the PTI has devised a contingency plan and in case any candidate is arrested or barred from contesting elections, his replacement would do so.

IHC bench reserves judgement

In a related development, a division bench of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Tariq Mehmood Jahangiri reserved its decision on two petitions of Imran Khan against his trial at Adiala Jail in Toshakhana and 190m pound corruption cases.

Mr Khan’s counsel Shoaib Shaheen said the notification had been issued in violation of relevant laws.

He pointed out that earlier another division bench of the IHC had scrapped court proceedings while observing flaws in the issuance of the notification for the jail trial.

Attorney General Awan told the court that the matter before the other bench was not identical.

He said the government has completed all codal formalities for the former prime minister’s trial in jail.

Contempt proceedings puts off

In another development, the Election Commission of Pakistan agreed not to proceed with contempt of the ECP and the chief election commissioner against Imran Khan until the Feb 8 general elections.

A four-member ECP bench, headed by its Sindh member Nisar Ahmed Durrani, heard the case. Advocate Shoaib Shaheen appeared before the bench on behalf of the former prime minister, while Faisal Fareed represented former PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry.

“Statements of witnesses were to be recorded today,” reminded Mr Durrani when PTI founder’s lawyer said he had applied for adjournment of the case due to elections.

Mr Shaheen, who is also the party’s independent candidate from an NA seat of Islamabad, urged the bench to adjourn the case hearing till after elections.

“This hearing is giving an impression that the Election Commission of Pakistan is facilitating one political party while targeting another,” Shoaib Shaheen said. To this, Justice retired Ikramullah Khan, who is the commission’s member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, made it clear that the ECP has no inclination towards any political party.

Replying to him, the PTI founder’s lawyer pointed out that Section 144 has been imposed in Punjab, but the ECP member emphasised that such matters pertained to the administration and they have nothing to do with the Commission. “What could the Election Commission do if a terrorist enters the rally?” he asked.

The lawyer then referred to a recent ECP order about PTI intra-party polls, adding that the commission took away PTI’s poll symbol ahead of the general polls.

“People know PTI founding member. What is the importance of ‘bat’,” retired Justice Ikramullah asked.

“Posters in every constituency of Islamabad have big pictures of the PTI founder,” he remarked.

The lawyer expressed the party’s readiness to hold intra-party elections afresh and remarked: “We are ready to hold intra-party elections again under the supervision of the Election Commission of Pakistan. The party has been dissolved for five years by denying the poll symbol to it.”

The ECP member retorted that the case has been in limbo for more than a year, when the lawyer urged that statements of witnesses should be recorded after Feb 15. The hearing was then adjourned till Feb 20.

Regarding the contempt case against Fawad Chaudhry, his lawyer Faisal Chaudhry requested for adjournment of the hearing, to which, ECP member from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pointed out that no reply has been submitted by Fawad Chaudhry on the show-cause notice till date.

The lawyer still insisted for more time to submit reply to the show-cause notice and was given time till Feb 21 to do the needful. The lawyer submitted written request for the issuance of the production order of Fawad Chaudhry, saying that the trial should be conducted in his presence and maintained that trial is not conducted in the absence of an accused.

Mr Durrani of the ECP said that the production order would be issued only if needed, and that an order would be issued in this context.

Iftikhar A. Khan in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2024

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