Special bench formed to hear Imran’s appeals tomorrow

Published February 25, 2024
Former prime minister Imran Khan at the premises of the Supreme Court. — AFP/File
Former prime minister Imran Khan at the premises of the Supreme Court. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) formed a special division bench on Saturday to hear the appeals of former prime minister Imran Khan, his wife Bushra Bibi, and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi tomorrow (Monday) against their convictions in the cipher and Toshakhana cases.

Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi have challenged the conviction and their 10-year sentence each in the cipher case. Mr Khan and Bushra Bibi filed appeals against their conviction in the Toshakhana reference in which they were sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment each and a Rs1.54 billion fine.

The IHC division bench, comprising Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aura­ngzeb, will hear the appeals on Monday.

The appeal against conviction in the cipher case pointed out that the arrest and remand hearing on Aug 16, 2023, took place in the “most objectionable, clandestine, and secretive manner”.

It said the prosecution did not share the complete record that was produced before the trial court against Mr Khan and the judge indicted the former premier and former foreign minister in haste.

The appeal recalled that the IHC division bench had to scrap the trial court proceedings twice owing to the “glaring illegalities”, but Judge Abual Hasnat Zulqarnain allegedly concluded the trial without complying with the mandatory procedural requirements.

The appeal claimed that Mr Khan and his legal counsel extended all cooperation to the trial court and did not seek unnecessary adjournment to linger on the proceeding.

However, the judge did not ensure a fair trial and “the proceedings were hurried through by the court at a breakneck speed for reasons known only to the court itself”, and the “trial was concluded in less than 20 days”.

The appeal said the defence counsel cross-examined four prosecution witnesses, and the case was adjourned to Jan 25 when a counsel appeared before the IHC and another counsel had to rush to Lahore for dental surgery. The case was adjourned to Jan 27 when the judge appointed state lawyers for Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi.

It said Mr Khan and Mr Qureshi strongly objected to “these so-called state counsels without their consent but to no avail”.

They requested the court to make a call to their lead counsel to seek assistance in cross-examination, but the trial court refused to wait for him.

The appeal said the trial in the cipher case was shifted to a “secret room” and concluded in a “very short span of time”.

Toshakhana reference

The appeal in the Toshakhana reference alleged the trial was conducted in violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial.

It also insisted that Mr Khan, his spouse and their lawyers cooperated with the court, but Judge Muhammad Bashir on Jan 29 “suddenly and illegally” closed their right to cross-examine the prosecution witnesses.

The appeal said the lead counsel, Sardar Latif Khan Khosa, was contesting the election and had already sought general adjournment from the Supreme Court and high courts, but the trial court refused his request.

It said the alternative lawyer, Zaheer Abbas, was also not allowed reasonable time to prepare for the arguments “since the court was under some undue pressure to decide the case before Feb 8, 2024”, the date of elections.

According to the appeal, a defence counsel on Jan 30 sought to restore cross-examination but to no avail and the judge adjourned the hearing until Jan 31, when he announced the judgement without even recording the statements of Mr Khan and his spouse under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

It said the accountability judge convicted the former prime minister “in a haphazard manner, bypassing the procedure and settled practice [and] under apparent/visible pressure”.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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