Iddat case: Lawyers, civil society denounce ‘intellectual bankruptcy’ following Imran, Bushra’s conviction

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii says verdict shows the "rot" in the country's rule of law, lawyer Reema Omer says case has "cast a blow to women’s right to dignity and privacy".
Published February 3, 2024

Former prime minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi’s conviction and sentencing to seven years of imprisonment in the Iddat case on Saturday generated a strong backlash from lawyers and civil society who denounced the verdict.

The latest conviction was the fourth for the beleaguered PTI founder. He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in the Toshakhana reference by an accountability court on Wednesday, sentenced to 10 years in prison on Tuesday for leaking state secrets and convicted in a separate Toshakhana case in August last year with a sentence of three years imprisonment.

Regarding the former premier’s fourth conviction, this is what the experts had to say:

Lawyer Basil Nabi Malik told that when a former prime minister’s marriage resulted in not only a seven-year conviction but also a fine, “one should not only be worried about where we are headed but also about the intellectual bankruptcy of our preoccupations.”

He explained that a marriage contracted during the Iddat period would “at best, appear to be irregular and not void”.

Malik added that such an irregularity as per Sunni law and available case law “extinguishes on the expiry of the Iddat period itself”.

“The accused have been convicted under Section 496 which makes its applicability circumspect, especially when keeping in mind that such sections require intent and/or knowledge of ‘not lawfully being married’.

“Furthermore, the sheer coincidence of three back-to-back decisions against Imran Khan etc. right before elections, is, perhaps, one coincidence too many. But again, does anyone really care?”

Lawyer Rida Hosain told that the past week’s convictions had “completely discredited” the judiciary.

“It is clear that none of these convictions have anything to do with the law. The fact that the courts have failed to stop, and in fact, become part of the weaponisation of justice is tragic. Last year, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah ruled that ‘the right to dignity stands at the top, like a jewel in the crown of fundamental rights.’

“The right to dignity is absolute, and cannot be subjected to any restrictions, no matter how ‘reasonable’ they may be. Despite the Constitution guaranteeing these basic, fundamental rights, a married couple were forced into the courtroom, and required to defend entirely private decisions they had made. The message that this sends is that: nothing is sacred,” she opined.

Lawyer Abdul Moiz Jaferii referred to the verdict as a “joke”, saying that they “serve only to expose the circus that is our judicial system. They bring to the world the rot that is the rule of law in our country.”

Lawyer Reema Omer castigated the verdict as a “damning blot on our justice system”, saying it was horrifying how “the state stooped this low seemingly just to humiliate” the husband and wife.

“By making a woman’s menstrual cycle the subject of criminal inquiry (as well as public debate), this case has cast a blow to women’s right to dignity and privacy, as well as their freedom to make decisions about divorce and marriage without fear of being dragged in court,” she pointed out.

Farhatullah Babar, president of PPP’s Human Rights Cell, said conviction in the case was “going far too far”.

“Those who have always spoken against dragging women in politics will never endorse it. Regime has hit rock bottom. It’s disgusting,” he said in a strong rebuke.

Senior journalist and former Dawn editor Abbas Nasir termed the sentence a “travesty” and “massive overkill which was wholly unnecessary”.

He said the verdict would only inflame the PTI support base and “make them vote with a sense of vengeance”.

Civil rights activist and independent candidate for the February 8 general elections Dr Ammar Ali Jan also lent his voice to criticising the verdict.

“Welcome to Pakistan where an iddat case will get you a seven-year sentence while committing genocide and subverting the Constitution will get you free plots,” Dr Jan said.

Meanwhile, Reuters bureau chief for Pakistan and Afghanistan Gibran Peshimam rued that it would only have been news if Imran was not convicted in a case, adding that three guilty verdicts in six days in three different cases had to be “some sort of record”.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan warned that the verdict had “troubling implications for people’s right to privacy, particularly women’s right to dignity during court proceedings and to make decisions about divorce and marriage without the intrusion of the state”.